u Curacao research
centre and imares join forces .......1
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u A beautiful
brittle star on fossil reef . . . . . . . . . . . 2
the deep reefs have been shielding from our eyes ..
......................................... 3 u smithsonian institution makes 2nd trip to klein curacao...........................
u deep down in bonaire with res ....................................5
u archelogical discoveries .....................6 u curacao reef enters virtual era ..................................7
T H E A R R I VA L O F T H E C H A P M A N I N T H E H A R B O R O F K R A L E N D I J K D R E W A L O T O F AT T E N T I O N ”
CURACAO RESEARCH CENTRE AND DUTCH IMARES JOIN FORCES Scientists of the IMARES institute from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Dr. Erik Meesters and Dr. Lisa Becking, together with Dr. Carole Baldwin from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, were the very first researchers to ever feast their eyes on the biodiversity found on the deep reefs of Bonaire. They did so from within the Curasub, Substation Curacao’s mini submersible that provides its passengers the opportunity to experience the unknown wonders of
the underwaterworld to a maximum of 1000 feet.
the Exclusive Economic Zone Exploring the deep reefs, sci(Exclusieve Economische Zone - entists often times run into EEZ). species that look familiar, but The researchers from IMARES nonethless could be a never studied those deep reefs as Using the sophisticated camera’s before encountered relative of part of the “Bonaire Deep mounted on the outside of Reef Expedition 1”. Their the Curasub and collecting study was executed on behalf various biological specimen, the of the Ministry of Economic scientists set about to explore Affairs with regard to the joint and document the ecosystem and management by the islands and unique biodiversity of Bonaire. the Netherlands of the maritime The samples that were collected biodiversity and fishery in the included some very interesting waters surrounding the islands, sponges and other marine life. starting from the outer border of After being documented and an already organism. So, has this the maritime parks up to photographed in the lab area orange/brown sponge already on board the RV Chapman, the samples were packed for further been documented in the past, or hasn’t it? And how about that sea analyses in the Naturalis lab. cucumber....?
Exploring the new frontier on Bonaire at depths beyond 600ft, researchers Erik Meesters and Lisa Becking return from a 4,5hour submarine dive with samples of deep reef fauna for further studies.
Policy Coordinator Nature for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs on Bonaire, Paul Hoetjes.
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A BEAUTIFUL BRITTLE STAR ON FOSSIL REEF Since 2010, over a dozen scientists of the Smithsonian have come to Curacao to explore deep reefs. With the Curasub multiple dives were made to study the deep reef and look for new species. Several suspected new species are now being studied to verify whether a completely new species was discovered, or if the species had in the past already been documented. They are discovering suspected new species with almost every day The fiery red six-armed member of the family Ophiactidae One of them being a bright red brittle starfish that the scientists photographed at about 720 feet. The vertical wall was part of a fossil reef that was sighted at depths of more than 300 feet and that was probably formed during ice ages when the sea level was much lower than nowadays.
These fossil reefs provide a hard surface for oases of biodiversity in an extensive, otherwise empty wilderness of sand. The wall was discovered on the third day of the Bonaire expedition when the RV Chapman was moored at one of the piers of the Bonaire Salt Company and the Curasub was taken out for a four hour run. Brittle stars or ophiuroids are echinoderms in the class Ophiuroide and are closely related to starfish. They generally have five long whiplike arms that can reach up to 60 centimetres (24 in) in length on the largest specimens. Of the more than 2,000 species of brittle stars living today, some 1200 are found at depths beyond 600 feet. This particular brittle star however did not have five, but six arms which would mean itâ€™s a member of the family Ophiactidae.
Smithsonian scientists, with from left to right Carole Baldwin, Cristina Castillo and Lee Weight, dissecting one of the fish collected on the deep reef
of field work, including fishes, snails, bivalves, crabs and worms! A recent trip to Bonaire on board the research vessel RV Chapman, added even more new discoveries to the list that is steadily growing. On a vertical wall extending from 520 feet to well over 850 feet depth, scientists encountered a great deal of unique deep water marine life. Putting the Curasub from its custom-made platform and placing it in the floating submarine-dock
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WHAT THE DEEP REEFS HAVE BEEN SHIELDING FROM OUR EYES NPS CORALS HAVE TO HUNT FOR The information that the scientists FOOD
Bathycongrus Vicinalis (140mm)
Lipograma abberans or Golden Basslet
gathered on Bonaire is considered to be essential for purposes of nature conservation and to be able to develop plans for sustainable management of the region. The reasoning is that deep reefs can only be properly protected if mankind knows and learns as much as possible about the species living in the deep reefs. Only then will man be able to understand the ecological processes that maintain the region’s diversity.
he vast majority of soft corals and gorgonians rely greatly on zooxanthellae (one-celled microorganisms also known as symbiotic algae that live inside corals,) for their nutrition. These algae are sensitive to high light, variations in the concentrations of salt, and especially, to high temperatures. The algae use sunlight for photosynthesis, the process all plants use to convert energy from the sun into food energy.
As the underwater world and the marine ecology are seen as a source of materials that in the future may prove to be of great value, it’s the international responsibility for the countries to identify and map the biodiversity. The international nature organization ‘Conservation International’ already identified the whole of the Caribbean region as a hotspot of biodiversity, an area with outstanding varied ecosystems, and various kinds of Non-photosynthetic (NPS) soft corals are marine life that lacks the presence of plants and animals. zooxanthellae algae inside of its tissue. As a consequence, unlike other corals that can The Dutch scientists spent a great deal utilize these algae to help feed the coral, of time in the Curasub studying the NPS coral needs to hunt for their food and ecosystem and especially focused on physically consume prey in order to survive. marine plants and animals that might be different to the marine life that they had documented in earlier expeditions in Because they do not need light to go on comparable areas elsewhere in the world. growing, NPS corals are generally found in deeper, darker waters, or on the edges So the various fish that were collected of drop-offs and the bottom of caves and in the deep reefs, will be studied quite overhangs. carefully in the university laboratory in Wageningen. Specimens that were collected belonged to the Chrionema species, Scorpionfish species, the Lipograma abberans (Golden Basslet) species and the Ostichthys species, while excitement also reigned in the submarine when the scientists managed to bring up a 140 mm long juvenile Conger Eel (Bathycongrus Vicinalis species) found at 600 feet and a rare deep water sea urchin, also known as a Sea Biscuit. Ostichthys Trachypoma
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SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION MAKES 2ND TRIP TO KLEIN CURACAO F
or over three years now scientists of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington have been coming to Curacao to explore the deep reefs off the island. The reason they chose Curacao is twofold. First, the island boasts the presence of a mini-submarine that can dive to a depth of 1000 feet and, in the second place, within 600 feet from shore the land drops off to a depth of 1000 feet. Since their first venture into the Curacao waters, the Smithsonian team led by Dr. Carole Baldwin has made almost 30 dives with the Curasub to explore and document the reefs below the reach of regular scuba gear. The scientists from the Smithsonian facilities in Washington DC, Florida, and Panama, along with colleagues from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Coral Reef Research Foundation, have been combining expertise for their project on the island and on almost every dive they made with the Curasub, have discovered suspected new species of marine life, including fishes, snails, bivalves, crabs and worms. Of the approximately 90 fish species that were collected on these dives, about a quarter seem to be new to science, which is a rate of discovery unprecedented in modern marine ichthyology. They recently made their 2nd trip to Klein Curacao where again several fish were brought up that may prove to be new discoveries.
From Top to Bottom: Smithsonian fish experts have fund over 8 various scorpion fish below 500 feet depth. Several are definitely unknown, but a great deal of work remains to be done in order to identify this family of fish. Pictured one of the “new” species. After bringing fish up from the deep reef, the scientists set out
Curaçao Research Centre p/a Curaçao Seaquarium Park Bapor Kibrá z/n Curaçao The SI-team and “Dutch” standing on the new platform that was just recently added to the RV Chapman for transport of the Curasub.
Editor: Laureen Schenk Design and lay-out: Chris Richards/ Barbara van Bebber Pictures: Barry Brown Cival van der Lubbe Smithsonian Institution Substation Curaçao
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DEEP DOWN IN BONAIRE WITH IMARES T
hey just finished their first expedition to Bonaire where they explored the deep reef using the Curasub, but Bonaire will probably not have seen the last of the Dutch marine biologists Erik Meesters and Lisa Becking of IMARES Wageningen University. The fish, sponges and other marine organisms they encountered at great depth decidedly piqued their professional interest. The expedition already presented them with at least one new shrimp and two new species of fish and they are convinced that this will not be the last of the discoveries on the deep reef of Bonaire. In Bonaire with the Curasub Erik Meesters and Lisa Becking descended to depths of 600 to 750 feet at the Town pier, the Curoilpier in front of the airport runway and the Salt pier. Cruising in the Curasub along Bonaire’s reef, they also came across enormous fields that Dr. Meesters describes as ‘Red cyanobacterial mats’. According to Lisa Becking, finding these kinds of fields in coral reef, usually indicates that the marine system in that area is disturbed. The reason behind this disturbance and the growth of the algae field, is however not yet clear. So that is something that the scientists needs to Erik and Lisa discussing a particular find investigate further. As they informed their colleagues in The Netherlands, the researchers also found fossil reefs at depths of over 300 feet. As fossil reefs they consider reefs that were formed during ice ages when the sea level was much lower than it is today. These fossil reefs rise up in between extensive stretches of sand, providing a hard surface and serving as a base for marine organism to flourish. What the Dutch researchers hope to accomplish in the future is to find more of these ‘solitary’ reefs by executing acoustic surveys and then exploring these areas with the submarine. During the submersible dives examples of sponges, soft corals, gorgonians, echinoderms, fish, and mollusks were collected. These will be identified with the aid of taxonomists at Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the laboratory at Naturalis will generate ‘DNAbarcodes’ to facilitate future identification. CRINOIDS COME IN ALL SIZES AND COLORS
While diving, a large number of crinoids were observed and photographed. Some of them of exceptional beauty. Crinoids are marine animals that make up the class Crinoidea of the echinoderms. Crinoidea comes from the Greek word krinon, “a lily”, and eidos, “form”. They live both in shallow water and in depths as great as 18,000 feet and come in various sizes and colors. Crinoids are part of a large group of marine invertebrate animals called echinoderms. Other echinoderms are starfish, brittle stars, sand dollars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. Crinoids may have as few as five arms, but usually they have arms in multiples of five. All echinoderms also have calcite plates (ossicles) embedded in their skin, which form their skeleton. That is why living starfish feel scratchy when you touch them. Crinoids are unusual looking animals because they look more like plants than animals, hence the name ‘sea lilies’ applied to some living crinoids. They are however definitely not plants. Contrary to flowers who are the reproductive parts of photosynthesizing plants, crinoids are animals that eat plankton from seawater. They have muscles, nerves, a gut, a reproductive system, and other features of advanced Another deep reef echinoderm animals. They evolved a plant-like morphology so that they could remain attached to the seafloor while they spread their arms to catch food.
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ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES NOT ALL BOTTLES ARE A DIME A DOZEN Bottles are the most common finds when searching the ocean floor. Most times the bottles haven’t been there very long. Mostly just long enough to be covered with some sand and housing tiny creatures. But sometimes the bottles do date back to the olden days. Like the so-called “Case gins”, glass bottles that are also known as taper gins and that were a common style used from the 17th though the 20th centuries.
A SPANISH OLIVE JAR The expedition to Bonaire yielded much more than just a new insight into the marine life and the composition of the sea bottom. It also provided the scientists in the Curasub with a spectacular archeological discovery: a Spanish olive oil amphora which according to experts dates from about 1780. The amphora was found at a depth of 540 feet. Jars like the one that was discovered by the Curasub, were also salvaged from the wrecks of two ships that in 1724 sank on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic during a hurricane. Most of the jars that were salvaged from the wrecks are now housed in a museum in Santo Domingo. To archeologists amphoras, like the one discovered off the coast of Bonaire, are also known as “Spanish Olive Jars”.
OLD STOCK ANCHORS Another discovery was the find of some anchors that are probably a couple of centuries old.
The anchors found at a depth of 460 feet, are so-called “stocked anchors”. These anchors have a They were primarily used The Case gins were some of the stock that is set at right angles to the fluke of the anchor. by the Spanish during the earliest liquor bottles, square The first anchor stocks were exploration and colonization of in cross section and generally made of wood. Generally the the Americas. Employed as main designed to contain gin but wooden stocks were made of type of shipping container, the probably also other types of jars held foodstuffs and supplies. liquor. Their name comes from two pieces of timber (most commonly oak) that were joined Documents in old archives the fact that they would pack indicate that various types of more efficiently to a case (6 to together with either wooden beans and olives, as well as 24 bottles) than round bottles. or metal bolts and banding. One of the stock anchors that wine, olive oil and tar. Most was sighted between Bonaire were produced with a pointed base to allow upright storage by embedding in soft ground, such as sand. When transported by ship, the amphorae were most times stored in a rack and roped together to prevent shifting or toppling during rough seas. Studies show that amphorae were too cheap and plentiful to return to their origin point and A “Demijohn” was another and Klein Bonaire, in the past therefore, when empty, were apparently had such a wooden old bottle found on one of mostly discarded. stock. Although the remains of the exploratory dives with the wood could barely be seen, the Curasub. A Demijohn is a the banding was still distinctly larger than usual bottle which apparent. is typically ovoid or bladder shaped and can hold at least one Though probably also over gallon or more. a century and a half old, the second anchor, showing an iron stock, is definitely not as ancient as the one that used to hold the wooden stock.
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CURACAO REEF ENTERS VIRTUAL ERA A survey team of scientists, robotic specialists and cinematographers working on the Catlin Seaview Survey recently visited Curacao to study and photograph the island’s coral reef. The team spent several weeks appraising and photographing the reef for Google as well as collecting scientific data to be utilized in future reef research. As divers that have visited the island can attest, Curacao’s coral reef is among the most beautiful in the world. But that underwater world will shortly no longer only be visible to divers, but as a virtual rendering also be available to people that are not willing or able to don scuba gear. These people will soon be able to enjoy marine life via Google Maps ‘virtual diving’ platform. The team spent many hours shooting videos in the shallower parts of the reef. Apart from their traditional dives, they however also made use of Substation Curacao’s submarine ‘Curasub’ to capture footage of the reef. With the Curasub, that can take up to four passengers to a maximum depth of 1000 feet, they were able to significantly expand the depths to which a person can take a camera. The shallow reef survey involved photographing the reef in full 360 degree panoramic vision using specially developed cameras. As was the case when the Great Barrier Reef became the first area that target of this comprehensive study, the camera images are automatically analyzed using image recognition software, specially designed by UQ researchers, creating a baseline for scientific analysis from remote locations. The study serves to document the composition and health of the world’s coral reefs across a depth range of 0-300 feet. While the survey team was working their way along the shallow reef, Dr. Pim Bongaerts from the Coral Reef Ecosystems Laboratory at the University of Queensland, Brisbane in Australia was doing a study in the deep reef off the island where he was looking into the effects of climate change on one of the least known ecosystems on the planet ñ the deep-water reefs or mesophotic coral ecosystems (between 90 and 300 feet). The term ‘mesophotic coral ecosystems’ has recently been adopted for the deep, light-dependent coral communities that are found at depths in excess of 90 feet (usually confined to a maximum depth of 300-450 feet). Compared to their shallowwater counterparts these communities until recently did not receive much attention. Their great depth and therefore relative inaccessibility, being the main reason. Recent technological advances (ROVs, AUVs, technical diving) however sparked a renewed interest in these ecosystems, especially as they seem to be largely protected from several major reef stressors, such as storm events and elevated seawater temperatures. By exploring the molecular ecology of mesophotic coral ecosystems, Dr. Bongaerts hopes to get a better understanding of the ability of these deep reef areas to act as refugia and more importantly to re-seed shallow reefs post disturbance.
As part of their survey of mesophotic coral ecosystems, the Australian scientists set out several coral colonies in both the shallow as well as the deep reef. Next year’s comparison of the different colonies could prove to be interesting.