Rover grabs gorgonians

An international team of researchers have discovered and collected two new species of soft corals with the aid of a remotely operated vehicle.

An international team of researchers have discovered and collected two new species of soft corals (gorgonians) with the aid of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

Experts from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami found the gorgonians on the third-largest atoll in the world, the Saba Bank in the Netherlands Antilles and collected them using an ROV developed by Seabotix.

The SeaBotix LBV200L ROV they used is rated to operate in depths of 200m and includes a fibre optic video system that provides images from a high-resolution colour and a low-light B/W camera. Brushless thrusters on the ROV enable it to be manoeuvered in four axes, just like a helicopter.

An optional grabber arm was used by the researchers allowing them to collect the deepest new soft coral species at 70m, a depth that would be impractical to explore using conventional diving techniques.

‘The SeaBotix ROV has helped us explore the deeper areas of the bank that nobody has seen before. We have also been able to add to the species diversity of gorgonians found on the Saba Bank,’ said Shelley Lundvall, project coordinator for the Saba Bank project.

The ultimate goal of the research is to receive official recognition of the Saba Bank as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in order to regulate international shipping that occurs within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Netherlands Antilles.

A management plan is now being drafted with the goal of enforcing existing and new regulations to protect the diversity of Saba Bank marine life.

Another discovery made using the SeaBotix ROV emphasised the importance of the PSSA designation: ‘One of the most dramatic moments was when we found an anchor and chain scar on the bottom with the ROV. The ability to document the damage done by these large ships is critical in getting the Saba Bank designated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area,’ commented Shelley.

The video of the damage, as well as the actual recovery of the soft corals can be seen at
www.youtube.com/slundvall