Personal Perspectives

Amy Baco-Taylor: Passionate about Deep-Sea Corals

Black coral, primnoid coral, and feather stars flourish deep on the pristine Davidson Seamount.
Black coral, primnoid coral, and feather stars flourish 2,669 m (8,757 ft) deep on the pristine Davidson Seamount off the coast of California. (NOAA/MBARI 2006)

Two events made me passionate about deep-sea corals. One was my first submarine dive in a deep-sea coral bed off the Hawaiian island of Oahu. There was an incredibly lush community of corals and associated invertebrates that were not well known, let alone understood. A couple of years later, I attended the first international deep-sea coral symposium, where I learned more about the importance of deep-sea corals and the devastating impact of humans on them.

Ten years ago, we barely knew deep-sea corals existed. And these corals are even older than giant redwoods! Just as we are beginning to understand deep-sea corals, they are being destroyed. Like redwood forests, they will be extremely slow to recover. Some may never recover.

Preview Amy Baco-Taylor
Dr. Amy Baco-Taylor dives to deep-sea environments to study corals and the invertebrates that live on them.

Every Dive a Unique Experience

My work is largely about exploration. I spend a few weeks each year on research ships, using submersibles and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to collect samples and get video footage of deep-sea corals. Every submersible dive is a unique experience. Each site seems to have a different abundance of species as well as a few species we haven’t seen at other sites.

Back in the lab, we count the types of corals we observed and the types of invertebrates on the corals. We do genetic analyses to determine which species we have collected, how they are related to each other, and how well they are dispersing among different sites. This work is exciting because it has the potential to play a role in the conservation of these incredible deep-sea communities.

July 2011