UW News

June 20, 2019

Video: Surprising discoveries in coral reefs found in low-light waters

UW News

There’s an area of the ocean known as the mesophotic zone that is still largely unexplored — where waters are about 100 to at least 500 feet deep, and little to no light breaks through. Little is known about the coral reefs at that depth because it’s just beyond where conventional divers can go.

Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, an assistant professor in the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, spent up to eight hours at a time in the cramped quarters of a submersible watercraft, studying the largest known coral reef in the mesophotic zone, located in the Hawaiian Archipelago. With a robotic arm, her research team collected specimens of coral, and captured video footage and photos of underwater life that has rarely been seen by humans.

Her work documented life along the coral reef, finding a surprising amount of coral living in areas where light levels are less than 1% of the light available at the surface.

“It’s a really unbelievable place,” Padilla-Gamiño said. “What is surprising is that, in theory, these corals should not be there because there’s so little light. Now we’re finally understanding how they function to be able to live there.”

Read more about the mesophotic coral study in a related press release.