The Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) is a Smithsonian research program launched to explore marine life and monitor changes on deep reefs in the southern Caribbean. Found below SCUBA diving depths, deep reefs may represent the most diverse underexplored marine ecosystems in the world.

Shallow water coral reefs are in peril globally, but comparatively little is known about deep reefs, including what role they may play in the survival of shallow reefs above. Diving to 1,000 ft. in a state-of-the-art submersible is allowing Smithsonian marine scientists to visit deep reefs to study and monitor these ecosystems. 

Since 2011 DROP has received funding from Smithsonian's Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet, National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration Grant, Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the National Museum of Natural History and private donations.

Current Research


Virtual Sub Dive


Additional Resources


DROP Blogs: Follow our "Summer in a Sub" and “Science with a Sub” blog series to learn more about Smithsonian marine research, unique deep reef species, and challenges of collecting with a submersible.

Invertebrate Zoology No Bones Blog: “Charro” and “Cowboy” Hermit Crabs  

Invertebrate Zoology No Bones Blog: Yo, Ho, Ho and a Bottle of Shells

Coral Reef Photo Blog - Follow the blog of avid underwater photographer Barry B. Brown. He has spent years documenting life above and below water in Curacao. His blog is continually updated with stunning images of organisms collected with the submersible and other marine life found in shallower waters.


ScienceDaily: A lucky catch: A tiny new fish, Haptoclinus dropi, from the southern Caribbean

Washington Post: Deep reef ‘twilight zones’ slowly yield their secrets to explorers, by Brian Vastag

National Geographic Weekend Radio interview with Boyd Matson. DROP Principal Investigator Dr. Carole Baldwin talks about the discovery of new fish species found off the coast of Curaçao with the Curasub submersible. 

Smithsonian Scientists Find New Goby Species In Caribbean Deep Reefs, FishSens Magazine


History Channel: Ocean as Lab Series - In this Ocean as Lab video, Dr. Carole Baldwin talks about exploring deep-reef ecosystems. Knowing what lives in these underexplored areas and understanding how it is changing over time may be critical to preserving tropical coral reef ecosystems worldwide. This video and other Ocean as Lab videos can be seen in the Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

EOL Curacao Deep Reef Collection - Visit our virtual collection on the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) to see some of the beautiful and unique species collected by our scientists in Curaçao.


Smithsonian Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet website