UMaine marine science students dive deep in Alaskan fjords

Two marine science students at the University of Maine started off 2016 a little differently than they had previous years.

For five days, Ashley Rossin and Elise Hartill collected red tree corals, Primnoa pacifica,from the Tracy Arm Fjord — a narrow, deep inlet of the sea nestled between high cliffs — located just south of Juneau, Alaska.

The corals were collected off the fjord’s wall, approximately 60 to 100 feet below the ocean’s surface. Red tree corals are octocorals, which are the “sea fans of coral reefs.”

“While this is normally a deep-water coral, the fjord creates an effect called deep-water emergence where deep-sea organisms can live at shallower depths because the conditions are the same,” says Rossin.

The researchers are evaluating how pH and temperature changes affect the development and efficiency of the cold-water corals’ reproductive structures. The researchers hope their observations will shed light on the implications climate change will have on coral organisms and marine ecosystems.

“It is a good species to collect because it’s a known habitat for several invertebrate and vertebrate species. This is important because their reproductive success determines the success of several Alaskan fisheries,” says Rossin.

Live corals were shipped for further analysis to a lab on Kodiak Island, off the south coast of Alaska.

After six months, the samples will be shipped to Maine where researchers at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center will evaluate any changes in morphology and reproduction that occurred under the experimental conditions.

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