Summer in a Sub

Uncovering Biodiversity Before It Disappears

Editor's Note: See more information and details about the organisms displayed in the slideshow here . Researchers who come to Curaçao to take part in DROP ( Deep Reef Observation Project ) aren’t running on sleep; they’re running on passion, curiosity and a drive to not waste a moment of opportunity to explore. (And, yes, a fair bit of caffeine.) We are in as much an age of discovery as were Lewis and Clark , Alfred Russel Wallace or Austin Hobart Clark (whose travels on-board the Albatross in 1906 contributed to building NMNH's collections). But our current age of exploration is technology-...Read more

Uncovering Biodiversity… with ARMS and a Submarine Claw

The Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure was developed to help scientists study coral reef diversity and have now been adopted broadly to study diversity around the world. Credit: Laetitia Plaisance/CReefs, Census of Marine Life If there had been room to stand up, there would have been a standing ovation. As it was, the five of us on the submersible Curasub clapped and cheered when the first three deep-reef ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) were successfully deployed at approximately 396 feet (120 meters). ARMS are like condos for a reef’s “hidden biodiversity” -- the small...Read more

A Voyage of Discovery to Inner Space

The Mars rover Curiosity is sending images back home : glimpses of another world during a voyage of discovery. While Curiosity is clicking pictures millions of miles away, I am privileged to be taking part in my own voyage of discovery to the inner space of this planet. Without need of a spacesuit, I am clicking pictures off Curaçao, an island in the Dutch Caribbean. A submersible carries researchers to one of the least explored regions of the ocean: the deep reefs of the twilight zone, which in the clear waters off Curaçao extend to a depth close to 1000 feet. In this shadowy realm,...Read more
Nine small invertebrates held on two fingers.

On Biodiversity: Understanding its Meaning and Importance

These mollusks and echinoderms are a teeny-tiny sample of the ocean's biodiversity. The Census of Marine Life estimates that there are at least one million species of plants and animals in the sea. Most of which have not been described. The nine animals in this photo were collected by Smithsonian researchers involved in the Deep Reef Observation Project . Credit: Smithsonian Institution The ocean is home to a phenomenal diversity of marine organisms. They have evolved to inhabit warm waters near the equator and the icy waters of the Earth’s poles. Marine life takes advantage of the enormous...Read more

Searching for Cancer Drugs in the Ocean

Dr. Patrick Colin , of the Coral Reef Research Foundation in Palau, examines a sponge he collected off the island of Curaçao, in the Caribbean. Colin is conducting research for the National Cancer Institute and looking for sponges with properties that may lead to new treatments. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Ever since fourth grade I’ve wanted to explore the creatures and landscapes of the deep ocean in a submersible. It took awhile, but I finally got my chance this summer as part of the Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) . What I experienced during my three-hour dive and subsequent...Read more

Ocean Trash: Marine Debris From Shore to Sea

We drove down a long dirt road on the northern side of Curaçao looking for a remote place to snorkel and sample. After a 30-minute bumpy ride, our team stepped out of the car into a breeze and the sounds of wind and crashing waves. It’s a moment I will never forget; although no one was in sight for miles, the evidence of human activity was apparent. We had stepped onto a shoreline blanketed in garbage. We were on the northern and windward side of the island, so we wondered if the trash came from the ocean, or if the site might be an old dump, or one still in use. Regardless of where it came...Read more

Diving for Crabs in the Deep Sea

Last week, Smithsonian research zoologists Dr. Jerry Harasewych and Dr. Martha Nizinski were in Curaçao looking for deep-sea marine gastropods and decapod crustaceans , respectively. I learned they both previously used the Johnson-Sea-Link I and II to conduct their research. The Johnson-Sea-Link is a research submersible that became operational in the early 1970's. Although Harasewych and Nizinski have used research submersibles extensively in other parts of the Caribbean and western Atlantic, they were excited to be a part of the Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) and use the Curasub to...Read more

A Sub and a Sea Toad

Researchers with the Smithsonian's Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) collected this sea toad, Chaunax pictus , off the coast of Honduras in 2011. The team is trying to collect sea toads from around the Caribbean to better understand the group's genetic diversity and distribution. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Have you ever seen a creature so unusual? This fish (22 cm long) is called a sea toad and studying them requires luck and the opportunity to descend into the deep waters where they live. Last week Dr. Carole Baldwin and other ichthyologists participating in the Smithsonian...Read more

Summer in a Sub: DROP Down to Discovery

You never know where following your passions can take you. I came to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) two years ago as a research intern after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in biology. I never expected, two years later, to spend a summer working with scientists, sub pilots, and engineers to help document the biodiversity of marine life off of Curaçao, a small island in the southern Caribbean, just north of Venezuela. I arrived in Curaçao with the first group of Smithsonian biologists involved with the Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP). Researchers from NMNH...Read more