2014 Gulf of Maine Deep Corals Cruise

K2 ROV launched from R/V Connecticut
K2 ROV begins descent into the deep waters of Gulf of Maine (Photo credit: P. Auster)

In the summer of 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) supported NURTEC to conduct an expedition to the northern Gulf of Maine to explore for the location and distribution of deep sea corals. A 14 day cruise off the RV Connecticut with the ISIS2 camera sled was conducted from 11-24 July 2013 and completed 40 camera tows in four areas (western Jordan Basin, Mount Desert Rock-Outer Schoodic Ridges, Blue Hill Bay, and off Monhegan Island). Deep sea corals were present at 15 stations, sea pens at 20 stations and sponge fauna at 29 stations (More info).

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The value of this survey was the speed at which the ISIS2 could be deployed to maximize the number sites that could be visited to provide presence/absence information on the distribution of corals and other important invertebrates. The limitations of the ISIS2, however, were that since it had no thrusters to control its direction, it was a the mercy of the ship’s motion and the currents, not being able to stop and get close-up imagery of any of the organisms. Further, the system had no capability to physically sample any of the organisms for important genetic and taxonomic analyses. In July, 2014 NMFS supported a 15 day mission to return to the Gulf of Maine with the Kraken2 (K2) remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to further survey and sample the sites that supported deep sea corals, sea pens and sponges.

Pollock amass in light of the K2 ROV.  The deepsea corals seen here provide a diverse habitat and abundance of food for benthic fishes. (Image courtesy of Gulf of Maine Deep Sea Coral Science Team 2014/NURTEC-UConn/NOAA Fisheries/UMaine)
Pollock amass in light of the K2 ROV. The deepsea corals seen here provide a diverse habitat and abundance of food for benthic fishes. (Image courtesy of Gulf of Maine Deep Sea Coral Science Team 2014/NURTEC-UConn/NOAA Fisheries/UMaine)
Map of N. Gulf of Maine Deep Coral Sites

The expedition utilized the R/V Connecticut as a support ship. It is the ideal platform to support ROV operations due to its dynamic positioning system, low freeboard and ample deck space to support the K2 ROV system comprised of the ROV, a winch for its 4000 feet of tether, a hydraulic power unit to drive the winch, and a 20 foot control van where the ROV is controlled at the direction of scientists and pilots. Despite two days of unworkable weather the NURTEC team was able to conduct 21 dives, averaging 9.8 hours in the water per day working at an average depth of 204 meters (669 feet). The K2 collected over 100 hours of high definition video and 7273 high resolution digital still images from its two cameras. In addition, the K2 collected a significant number of deep sea corals, sponges and sea pens for analyses of populations genetics, reproductive histology, and for voucher specimens at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The genetics will provide important information on the relationship of these deep sea corals to other populations existing further offshore, while the morphological analyses will provide evidence of the dynamics of reproductive condition of these animals. Video will be used to assess habitat requirements of key species, variation in size structure of corals, and the functional role of coral and sponge taxa as fish habitat. This information, will provide NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council with very important guidance for future management decisions on these vulnerable marine ecosystems.

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