Coral Scientist Brendan Roark: On an Urgent Mission

Dr. Brendan Roark discusses different methods of sampling deep-sea corals with undergraduate students at Texas A&M University.


James LaCombe

Deep-sea coral beds are true biodiversity hotspots. It’s urgent that we study these extreme environments because we know so little about them, because they are important communities for so many deep-sea creatures, and because they are so susceptible to human activities.

I study deep-sea corals to learn more about the history of the ocean and past ocean climates. My colleagues and I study changes in the ocean’s temperature, productivity, and food chain. We also use radiocarbon dating to determine age and growth rates of different corals. At one time it was rare to see a specific age associated with deep-sea corals—the research hadn’t been done. Now we are able to attach ages to deep-sea corals. I find their growth rates and longevity unbelievable to some degree.

The Pisces IV submersible sits on a saddle near Kingman Reef in Hawaii.


Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

It Was Magnificent

I get to go places and see things that very few, if any people have seen while using advanced technologies such as submersibles and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). On one research cruise in the Hawaiian Islands, we went to an area where other researchers had located deep-sea corals by tracking monk seals that swam long distances to a particular reef to feed. We dove down 400 m (312 ft) in a submersible and came upon large, beautiful black coral. It was about 3 m (9 ft) wide and vibrant orange. (Black corals are named after their dark skeletons; the living tissue is often brightly colored.)

It was magnificent. I couldn’t see it all through the small portal. People should know about wonders like this and about the impact human activities are having.

Explore more in the Ocean Portal multimedia feature "Coral Gardens of the Deep Sea."