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Journey to the abyss of the Falcor research ship

Journey to the abyss of the Falcor research ship

Thirty-four days at sea, 21 dives for a total of 182 hours of exploration, full high-resolution mapping of more than 30,000 square kilometers of seafloor. These are the numbers for the last expedition of the research ship valcorowned by Schimdt Oceanic InstituteWhich ended a few days ago, in which the ship’s crew documented with photos and videos, the underwater life in the abyss around the archipelago of the Phoenix Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The amazing cliff life. The expedition, which, thanks to the submarine Sebastian, reaching a depth of more than 2,000 meters, began in June with the aim of mapping the area around nine submerged mountains located in the vicinity of the archipelago, and returned with a treasure trove of audiovisual materials documenting life in that abyss.

Part of the Republic of Kiribati, a central Pacific island nation that has gained independence from the United Kingdom since 1979, the Phoenix Islands are made up of eight atolls, covering a total of just 28 square kilometers. Almost completely uninhabited (about twenty people live on Canton Island alone), these islands and the surrounding ocean are also a protected area, one of the largest in the world. It’s in these remote areas valcor (Who is the If you like, you can monitor its condition in real time), carried out its expedition: it is the second time for a search ship, which has already begun mapping operations in 2017.

Corals, sponges and microbes. It is owned by the Schmidt Institute but given free of charge to research institutions that request its use, and valcor It had a staff that included researchers from Boston University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. During the expedition, the team not only explored and mapped the sea floor, capturing hundreds of hours of video material, but also conducted experiments on the samples observed, for example by studying the interaction of corals and sponges with specific microbes. Below you will find some of the most beautiful photos and videos taken by the “author”, ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle, which is basically a RC Robot for Exploration) Sebastian.

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Like this pink coral hemcurium It expands its range to capture nutrients carried by ocean currents. The Phoenix Islands Conservation Area is home to about 120 species of coral, spread across different reefs.
© Logan Mock / Schmidt Marine Institute


An image taken during the SuBastian ROV’s first dive, where we see an example of coraliphora – an example of an animal feeding on coral – one of the phenomena that the expedition set out to investigate. We are at a depth of 2004 m, and starfish of the genus Evoplosoma feed on corals of the genus Corallium: these animals feed on the mucus secreted by corals, but also on their tissues, and in extreme cases on their skeleton.
© Logan Mock / Schmidt Marine Institute


The corals in the foreground belong to the family Primnoidae (representatives of which are also found in our seas). Seen on the “shrub” are a series of opioids or serpentine stars, which use coral as a base while picking up nutrients carried by ocean currents. The two background corals belong to the genus Iridogorgia (right) and the family Isididae (left).
© Logan Mock / Schmidt Marine Institute


Coral of the genus Metallagorgia and a serpentine star coiled around its branches. It also shows, according to scientists, what could be a cyst containing eggs.
© Logan Mock / Schmidt Marine Institute


The research vessel Falkor, owned by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, founded in 2009 by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt with his wife Wendy, is dedicated to ocean research.
© Logan Mock / Schmidt Marine Institute


The SuBastian ROV was lowered into the ocean on its first dive, during which it will reach a depth of 2,200 meters.
© Logan Mock / Schmidt Marine Institute

In this video, a rare sample of Vitrilidonella RichardiGlass octopus: It is a gelatinous animal and is almost completely devoid of colour. The only parts of the body that are opaque are the optic nerve, the digestive system, and some of the cells it uses to camouflage itself called chromatophores (these are the yellow dots you see in the video). The glass octopus can reach a length of 45 cm.

Two Decapods of the family Galatheidae are immortalized on coral of the family Primnoidae. While snorkeling, the SuBastian ROV was able to observe unique behaviours, for example crabs stealing each other’s food (as opposed to the ones in the video, which coexist without problems).