Deep Sea Algae
Weʻre learning about algae that grows in deep sea environments, called mesophotic reefs. Beyond the reach of conventional scuba, mesophotic reefs receive just enough sunlight for algae to grow and photosynthesize. Deep sea corals, other invertebrates, and fishes also inhabit these remote environments.
The Hawaiian archipelago is a unique place to study mesophotic reefs. The gently sloping volcanic islands provide large areas of rocky habitat for deep sea algae and corals to live. Mesophotic reefs are too deep for snorkeling or traditional scuba. Advances in diving technology, submersibles and remotely operated vehicles have allowed researchers access to these area in recent years —providing the world with new understandings of deep water communities and connectedness across ocean basins.
We catch up with algae experts Dr. Alison Sherwood and Dr. Heather Spalding to learn more about mesophotic reefs and the exciting discoveries they are making of many never-before-seen species of deep sea algae. We visit the plant science lab at UH Mānoa to learn how to identify different types of algae—and the process of classifying and describing a new species. Researchers are using the genetics of deep sea algae to help determine their relationship to local shallow water species as well as to mesophotic reefs in other parts of the world. We take a quick dive into the methods researchers use to extract DNA from algae, copy and clean the DNA, and analyze genetic sequences on the computer.
Then, we check out the algae and plant specimens at the Bishop Museum in downtown Honolulu with collections manager Barbara H. Kennedy. Bishop Museum is the official Herbarium of Hawaiʻi—where samples of new species as well as samples of rare and endangered plants and algae are stored in special water and fire proof rooms.
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- University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of Botany
- College of Charleston Department of Biology
- Bishop Museum
- Botany (plant and algae) collections
- NOAA article on deep sea reefs: What are Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems?
- NOAA article on cruise featured in this episode: Researchers observe coral reef damage and invasive alga in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
- UH News articles on new algae species:
Learn more about the submersibles used by UH researchers at the Hawaiʻi Undersea Research Laboratory
- Hawaiʻi Sea Grant Ka Pili Kai Ho‘oilo 2019
- Issue “Limu Gifts from the Sea“