Until now, researchers knew very little about the deep water coral reefs and hard-bottom communities 70 to 80 miles off the North Carolina coast. Scuba divers have never been that deep. Nets could only provide a sample of what was below, but the Seward Johnson research vessel is equipped with a comfortable bubble-eyed view up to 3,000 feet down.
"We are truly in a fish bowl inside a sub and the fish are around us," said Liz Baird, of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. "[It's] extraordinarily beautiful. It is mesmerizing."
Dr. Steve Ross and a team of researchers are gathering samples of coral and the sea life that live in the deep. What they learn could help others manage these slow growth habitats in the future.
Commercial fisherman are also interested in the areas and some trawling nets can destroy the fragile coral.
"In fact if they're destroyed, they may not ever come back," Ross said.
While scientists gather samples, high-definition cameras gather pictures. They will be shown on a wide screen to museum audiences back in Raleigh.
"Being able to translate that excitement back to the public, I think, helps them gain an appreciation for why it's important, what's going on out here," Baird said.
You can follow the experiences of the research crew on their daily Web log called
Life on the Edge
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