Author: M. McKee

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).

Click here for Photo Gallery

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.

In the News

38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan

Charles W. Morgan
The whaling ship, Charles W. Morgan (Photo credit: M. McKee/NURTEC)

The world’s last remaining sail-powered whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, conducted her 38th voyage this past summer traveling from Mystic, CT to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) as a symbolic journey to one of the world’s premier whale watching sites. This voyage captured the renaissance of the Morgan from a whale hunting ship to an emissary of ocean conservation. While in the sanctuary, researchers, historians, artists and authors on board the Morgan conducted research and outreach activities to highlight the sanctuary’s role in whale conservation and ocean research.

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The Northeast Underwater Research, Technology and Education Center (NURTEC) was asked to work with partners from NOAA, SBNMS and the Mystic Seaport to establish a comprehensive ship to shore broadband wireless network to support telepresence broadcasts from the Morgan as she sailed in the Sanctuary in the Gulf of Maine. The concept of telepresence as envisioned for the Morgan’s voyage was not simply broadcasting a single camera feed, but to turn the Morgan into a mobile “news studio” that allowed multiple cameras onboard to focus on the business of sailing the ship, interviews with experts in maritime history and marine mammal biology onboard, and other onboard programming. The onboard studio was able to interact with historians, scientists and archaeologists across the globe (at other National Marine Sanctuaries for example) with interesting and associated content to offer.

NURTEC developed the capacity to conduct low-cost, broadband, telepresence broadcasts from ship to shore nine years ago in support of similar maritime heritage focused projects with the SBNMS. This capacity includes both ship-side and shore-side equipment and the know-how to design, install and operate this equipment to set up a ship to shore network with enough throughput to deliver compressed high definition video from ship to shore. In 2005 NURTEC and SBNMS conducted a “live dive” that featured live underwater video from the Center’s ROV as it explored the wreck of the steamship Portland that was then sent from the RV Connecticut over 20 miles back to shore to the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, MA, and from there onto the Web. The Center conducted a similar, but more complex telepresence activity with SBNMS in 2006 to highlight from the wreck of the twin schooners the Palmer and the Crary.

Panoramic view from the top of Pilgrim Monument
Panoramic view from atop Pilgrim Monument, where directional radio antennas provided a strong wireless connection from the Morgan to the World Wide Web.

The public was able to follow the Morgan’s visit to the sanctuary on OceansLIVE ( that broadcast three live shows daily from the vessel and other locations on July 11-13th. Each of the shows featured interviews and commentary with historians, scientists, authors and artists discussing the shift from whaling to watching in New England. The OceansLIVE website has archived the shows that are available for viewing at the web site.

2013 Gulf of Maine Corals

Imaging Surveys of Northern Gulf of Maine and Jordan Basin Habitat Areas for Deep-sea Corals and Sponges

Dive operations


Schoodic Ridges - Mount Desert Rock AreaFor this project NURTEC provided designed and developed a new towed video system to support seafloor imaging surveys in the northern Gulf of Maine.  The project is based on a collaborative pre-proposal (Auster, Packer, Nizinski, Bachmann and Stevenson) to the NOAA Deep Sea Coral Program and draft text by this same group for a deep sea coral amendment to the New England Fishery Management Council.   The project addresses NOAA’s long-term mission Goal #3 focused on “Healthy Oceans.”  In particular, research and information products that result from this deep sea coral survey effort will directly inform NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fisheries Management Council and improve conservation and sustainable use of “marine fisheries, habitats, and biodiversity …”.


Underwater Technology Development

ISIS2 towed system

A significant engineering effort was implemented to accomplish project goals for collecting high resolution seafloor imagery at a large number of stations in the steep topographic settings where corals occur in the northern Gulf of Maine.  The Instrumented Seafloor Imaging System (ISIS2) was developed to operate via an electro-optic cable to support high definition and standard definition video cameras, movable lights on pan-tilt units, a digital still camera with electronic flash and a sector scanning sonar.  The operational objective was to produce a real time “flyable” vehicle that would provide the pilot with real-time imagery with which to control the depth off bottom via a winch (y-axis movement) and to combine this with the dynamic positioning of the surface support vessel (x-axis movement along the seafloor) to conduct near bottom transects in the precipitous topography of the northern Gulf.

Operations Summary

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.

Results to Date

tow10-114bump-03Geo-referenced data on camera tow locations and nominal presence-absence of target fauna have been submitted to the NOAA Deep Sea Coral Database.  A post-cruise review of selected still imagery produced a set of initial identifications of coral taxa for use in analysis of video imagery.  A protocol for throughput of video imagery, selecting and labeling frame-grabs, data types (e.g., taxonomic resolution, habitat classification), data handling (data set structure and storage), and linking to navigation data has been developed at NMFS Sandy Hook.  Detailed extraction of data from video imagery is ongoing.  A subset of transects has been selected for initial analyses in order to identify limitations based on image and taxonomic resolution.  An initial report focused on the occurrence of coral gardens in the Gulf of Maine, a direct result of this work, has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Biodiversity.  This project also led to a collaboration with the Ecosystem Monitoring group of NEFSC that focused on producing multibeam maps of seafloor bathymetry at two of our primary survey areas from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, September 2013 ECOMON cruise.  These maps will provide invaluable information to guide future investigations of these topographically challenging deep sea coral habitats.  An quick-turnaround publication was generated by the research team:


Peter J. Auster, Morgan Kilgour, David Packer, Rhian Waller, Steven Auscavitch & Les Watling (2013) Octocoral gardens in the Gulf of Maine (NW Atlantic), Biodiversity, 14:4, 193-194, DOI: 10.1080/14888386.2013.850446

OBFS-NAML Strategic Vision Report

OBFS LogonamlNURTEC Director, Ivar Babb co-authored a major report entitled: “Field Stations and Marine Laboratories of the Future: A Strategic Vision” that reviewed the nature of research and education being supported at Field Stations and Marine Labs (FSMLs) and provided strategic recommendations for the future of these important facilities. This was a collaborative effort between the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) and the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML). The report is available at:

ROV Support for the Lophelia II Expedition

Corals at Ram Powell
Deepwater corals and anemones found on Ram Powell,   a deepwater oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of the Lophelia II 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM.

Lophelia II 2012: Deepwater Platform Corals was a 12 day mission in the Gulf of Mexico sponsored by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and NOAA.  NURTEC provided its remotely operated vehicle, the Kraken2 (K2), that worked off from the research vessel the Brooks McCall, operated by TDI-Brooks.  The mission was called Lophelia II after the deep-water coral Lophelia pertusa and focused on understanding the ecology of deep water corals and other invertebrates that inhabit oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The expedition included lengthy, challenging yet successful ROV dives at four oil platforms and one subsea installation off the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coastline.  K2 was used to conduct thorough video and photographic surveys of coral and other invertebrate communities living on the subsea structure of the platforms, extending as deep as 1000m.    K2 was also used to collect biological specimens for museum display and genetic analysis as well as seawater and sediment samples for related ecological parameters. One of the mission highlights was the discovery of a new depth record for Lophelia at 799m on the Ram Powell platform.  Click here for more information.

Shipwreck Lamartine listed on National Register of Historic Places

Lamartine porthole
The carefully chiseled groove around the basin head’s manhole
allowed the manhole cover to fit flush with the slab’s surface.
(Photo Credit: NOAA/SBNMS and NURTEC-UConn)

The wreck of the Lamartine, a 19th century schooner that hauled granite for construction of streets, sidewalks and buildings along the U.S. East Coast, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. The wreck lies within NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Massachusetts Bay.

Built in Camden, Maine, the 79-foot, two-masted cargo schooner was launched in 1848 and enjoyed a 45-year career along the Eastern Seaboard. The Lamartine is considered by historians as a representative vessel of New England’s granite trade from that era.

While hauling granite sewer heads from Stonington, Maine, to New York City on May 17, 1893, the Lamartine encountered a storm off Cape Ann, Mass. Heavy seas caused the schooner’s cargo to shift, capsizing the vessel.

One crewmember drowned as the schooner settled beneath the waves, and the captain and mate were tossed into the ocean. Luckily, a fishing schooner returning to Gloucester, Mass., saw the Lamartine sink, and rescued them.

“Lamartine’s cargo of cut granite reveals fascinating details about how granite quarried in New England met the demands of a nation growing increasingly urban,” said Craig MacDonald, superintendent of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “The shipwreck is a physical link to earlier generations who moved the stone and whose hands chiseled the granite blocks that built our great American cities.”

Scientists from NOAA and the University of Connecticut’s Northeast Underwater Research Technology and Education Center (NURTEC) documented the shipwreck with the university’s remotely operated vehicle during several research missions between 2004 and 2006. The fieldwork recorded the vessel’s features, including portions of its wooden hull, rigging and granite cargo. This information allowed sanctuary maritime archaeologists, with help from a local maritime historian, to identify the shipwreck and connect it with New England’s cultural landscape that is dotted with granite quarries on coastal headlands and islands.

NOAA and NURTEC scientists have collaboratively located and documented more than three dozen historic shipwrecks in the sanctuary using side scan sonar and an advanced suite of remotely operated and self-guided underwater vehicles. The Lamartine is the sanctuary’s sixth shipwreck site to be included on the National Register of Historic Places, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

The Lamartine’s location within Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary provides protection unavailable to shipwrecks in other federal waters off Massachusetts. Sanctuary regulations prohibit moving, removing or injuring any sanctuary historical resource, including artifacts and pieces from shipwrecks or other submerged archaeological sites. Anyone violating this regulation is subject to civil penalties.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 842 square miles of ocean, stretching between Cape Ann and Cape Cod offshore of Massachusetts. Renowned for its biological diversity and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary is famous as a whale watching destination and supports a rich assortment of marine life, including marine mammals, seabirds, fishes and marine invertebrates. The sanctuary’s position astride the historic shipping routes and fishing grounds for Massachusetts’ oldest ports also makes it a repository for shipwrecks representing several hundred years of maritime transportation.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels at

On the Web:
NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary:
NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries:
NOAA Preserve America Initiative:
Northeast Underwater Research Technology and Education Center:
Lamartine photos can be found on Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s website at

Cocos Seamount Expedition

HELA ROVOn February 6th,  2012, NURTEC’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hela, capable of diving to 1000 feet, departed UConn Avery Point to be air freighted to Costa Rica to support a National Geographic Society (NGS) expedition to explore a deep-water seamount in the Pacific Ocean.  The “Las Gemelas” (the twins) seamount lies about 40 nautical miles offshore from Cocos Island, which itself lies over 375 miles from the coast of Costa Rica.  The expedition is being led by NGS photographer, Brian Skerry ( and Dr. Peter Auster, UConn Department of Marine Sciences is serving as an expedition scientist.

Click here for more information on the National Geographic Expedition.

Cocos Islands

Florida Shelf Edge Exploration II

Pink Stylaster corals
Pink Stylaster corals (Photo credit: CIOERT Research Team)

From September 12 to September 30, 2011, members of NURTEC’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations team collaborated with the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology (CIOERT) and partner scientists aboard the NOAA vessel Nancy Foster to conduct an undersea exploration of Florida’s deepwater coral ecosystems.  The objectives of this expedition were to survey these shelf-edge habitats and assess abundance and diversity of reef fishes, corals, and other associated invertebrates.  While some areas were revisited from previous years, the team also explored new sites along Pulley Ridge and Pourtalѐs Terrace.


Kraken2 ROV
NURTEC’s Kraken2 ROV (Photo credit: Andy David, NMFS)

The science party utilized an array of ocean technologies including CTD, MOCNESS, multi-beam sonar to identify potential hard-bottom targets of mesophotic coral reefs and NURTEC’s ROV, Kraken2, to ground-truth these areas of interest with high definition video, digital still photography, and sample collection.  For the mission, Kraken2 was equipped with an array of custom designed sampling systems including a HD video camera, four additional SD cameras for a variety of viewpoints, a down-looking digital still camera for conduction quantitative photo transects, forward and down-looking paired lasers for sizing objects, a six function manipulator with cutting claw for sample collection, suction sampling tube and eight bucket array, auto-indexing quiver array for biota collection.


sampling coral
Kraken2 ROV collecting coral sample with manipulator
and suction hose (Photo credit: CIOERT Research Team)

Over the course of sixteen scheduled dive days, a total of 26 dives were conducted ranging in depth from less than 200 meters to 850 meters water depth.  The opportune weather conditions, cooperative effort of science, ship and ROV team, and performance of Kraken2 ROV produced hundreds of hours of undersea video, thousands of digital photos, and wide array of biological specimens collected for taxonomy, genetic sampling, and medical research.  In summary, the research cruise was a success and the resulting data/scientific insight will help assess the efficacy of establishing marine protected areas and understanding coral/fish associations.

For more information about the FLOSEE II Expedition, please visit FLOSEE II: Exploring and Mapping Shelf Frontiers off South Florida.