Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Reports

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Coral Collection, Coral Preservation, Deep-sea Animal Collection, Deep-sea Animal Preservation


Around the time that the thirteen original Atlantic colonies were fighting for independence from Britain, there existed little agreement among naturalists as to the nature of corals. Were they inanimate (stones), plants, animals, or intermediate between the latter two (zoophytes)? This diversity of definition and opinions undoubtedly produced considerable confusion and disagreement among naturalists interested in such things. The symbiotic nature of algal cells in the tissues of some corals was also not well understood. It was not until the Darwinian period in the nineteenth century that little doubt remained, and therefore it was generally agreed, that corals were actually animals - heterotrophic living organisms that prey on other organisms for nutrition and do not produce their own food.

In the past fifty years the basic goals and tenets of deep-sea coral collection, curation, and taxonomy have changed little. On the other hand, the techniques and tools of this particular avenue of research have changed significantly. Regarding the collection of material in the field, some aspects remain fundamentally the same. The use of research vessels, bottom trawls, and naturalist's dredges are still frequently used for deep water research. In shallow water collecting, improvements in SCUBA diving equipment and new innovations, such as Trimix gas and Nitrox diving, have allowed divers to work at greater depths with longer bottom times. Pressure independent dive suits have permitted researchers to attain depths not possible in traditional wet or dry suits. In the past four decades, advances in optics, electronics, and robotic technology have allowed for a rapid sophistication and broader scope of possibilities regarding manned submersibles, remotely operated vehicles (ROV's), and more recently, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV's). Great strides have been made since the early 1990's in the technological aspects of the collection and photography of the deep water benthos.

Concerning the techniques and tools of research in the laboratory, the scanning electron microscope has for several decades provided a valuable tool for documenting surface details of sclerites. Newer electron microscopes and digital technology have negated the necessity of using photographic film and images can now be unloaded directly on to computers for processing. Relatively recently, the fields of phylogenetics, molecular biology, and natural products biochemistry have been applied to more traditional modes of research in the field of octocoral systematics.

This document on deep-sea coral collection protocols stands as a valuable resource, because it provides a standardized procedure for researchers during a time of rapidly changing technology regarding exploration of the deep-sea benthos. Stated another war, the protocols give us an instruction manual for research procedures in deep-sea benthic fieldwork. Technological improvements coupled with workable field-tested procedures (such as provided by the present volume) can in the long run, only help to expand and improve our base of knowledge concerning octocoral diversity.

The synthesis of results from research endeavors both old and new, and opportunities allowed by a constantly improving technological scene, provide for a positive potential for the future in the fields of octocoral diversity and systematics.

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NOAA Technical Memorandum; Office of Ocean Exploration. US Department of Commerce



Etnoyer, P., S. D. Cairns, J. A. Sanchez, J. K. Reed, J.V. Lopez, W.W. Schroeder, S. D. Brooke, L. Watling, A. Baco-Taylor, G. C. Williams, A. Lindner, S. C. France, and A.W. Bruckner



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