New Project to Explore the Dutch Caribbean Deep
By Dana Niland
Next week, a team of scientists and explorers will board the R/V Chapman and travel to the uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao as part of a series of oceanographic expeditions designed to document the health and biodiversity of shallow and deep-reef ecosystems.
This venture will serve as the inaugural expedition in Deep Dutch Caribbean, a series led by Uncharted Blue, a new organization that connects adventure seekers with scientists and marine technology to fuel exploration of uncharted ocean destinations.
“Deep mesophotic coral reefs are at the cutting edge of coral reef science as they are very poorly studied and are often made up of species of corals, fish and invertebrates that are totally new to science,” said Dr. David Kline, a lead scientist on the expedition and Research Biologist at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It is becoming increasingly clear that mesophotic reefs are diverse and serve many critical ecosystem functions yet they are threatened by many of the same stressors as shallow coral reefs including coral bleaching, ocean acidification and sedimentation.”
“It is essential that we better understand how deep mesophotic reefs function so that we can develop strategies to protect them before it is too late,” Kline said.
The Deep Dutch Caribbean expedition series is launched in partnership with the Curaçao Marine Research Center, Chapman Expeditions and Naturalis Biodiversity Center.
The organizations have teamed up in response to the decline of reef ecosystems around the world.
Reefs are experiencing heightened threats from mass coral bleaching triggered by global warming, ocean acidification from increasing carbon dioxide in the ocean, overfishing and other local impacts.
The unexplored, 100-plus-foot deep reefs surrounding Klein Curaçao serve as biodiversity hotbeds and contain new species of corals, invertebrates and fish.
Marine scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Smithsonian’s National Museum for Natural History, and Naturalis Biodiversity Center will lead scientific missions using a state-of-the art manned submersible, the Curasub, to explore the islands’ uncharted depths down to 1,000ft.
Scientists will make comparative observations of shallow and deep reefs.
Kline is especially interested in the mesophotic zone– the “middle light” zone and the furthest the sun can penetrate the ocean.
The expedition will be documented above and below sea level to support promotion of increased public participation in future planned expeditions.