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Episode 103: Corals of the Deep

In the deep waters off Florida’s Atlantic coast grow magnificent structures, capable of reaching 300 feet in height. These are the corals of the deep sea. Porcelain-white and centuries old, few humans have seen these delicate reefs. The Ivory Tree Coral, Oculina varicosa, and Lophelia pertusa flourish in harsh, sunless environments, yet these branch-like formations provide food and shelter for a variety of deepwater organisms. Rich in biodiversity, this mysterious underwater kingdom is threatened by destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling. However, a recently proposed 23,000 square mile marine protected area could save these fragile reefs from ruin.

Changing Seas follows scientists 50 miles offshore on a unique expedition to further pinpoint the locations of these thousand-year-old coral mounds. Using cutting-edge technology, experts from three of the country’s premier ocean research institutions have joined forces to investigate portions of Florida’s seafloor. The science team lives aboard a research vessel for seven days. Their mission: To scan the ocean bottom and create detailed maps using specially built Autonomous Underwater Vehicles or AUVs. Their results could help save Florida’s corals of the deep. But what will they find?


Meet the experts featured in this episode.

Special Thanks:

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Web Extras

Tour of RV Seward Johnson

Follow Captain George Gunther as he gives a behind the scenes tour of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute's (HBOI) research vessel, the Seward Johnson. For 7 days, CATALYST ONE team members as well as the Changing Seas crew lived and worked aboard the R/V Seward Johnson, featured in "Corals of the Deep."

Deep Sea Corals

In this behind-the-scenes clip from "Corals of the Deep," John Reed from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, explains the differences between two deep sea corals, the Ivory Tree Coral and Lophelia pertusa. Reed was the lead scientist of the CATALYST I Mission.

Funding for this episode of Changing Seas was provided by: