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Expedition To Uncover The Secrets Of Caribbean Coral Reef

On August 27, a team of scientists and explorers traveled aboard the R/V Chapman 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 was a inaugural expedition in a series led by Uncharted Blue, a new organization that connects adventure seekers with world-renowned scientists and marine technology to fuel exploration of uncharted ocean destinations.

The Deep Dutch Caribbean expedition series is launched in partnership with the Curaçao Marine Research Center, Chapman Expeditions and Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Explorer on the shore of uninhabited Klein Curaçao with R/V Chapman in the distance. Credit: Uncharted Blue Reef ecosystems around the world are in serious decline and threatened from mass coral bleaching triggered by global warming, ocean acidification from increasing carbon dioxide in the oceans, overfishing and other local impacts.

The largely unexplored deep reefs, deeper than 100ft, 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 1000ft. Scientists will make comparative observations of shallow and deep reefs. Dr. David Kline of Scripps Oceanography is especially interested in the mesophotic zone- this is the “middle light” zone and the furthest the sun can penetrate the ocean.

“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. 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,” says Dr. David Kline, a lead scientist on the expedition and Research Biologist at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The expedition was documented above and below sea level to support the promotion of increased public participation in future planned expeditions. The public can explore the depths virtually with the team by following Uncharted Blue’s social channels. Filmmakers joining the expedition will produce a short film that will be made available the public after the expedition. Novice and expert ocean explorers will be invited to participate in follow-on expeditions planned for Winter 2018/19.

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