Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University (Harbor Branch) has been selected by the Waitt Institute for Discovery to carry out a series of voyages of exploration in the Straits of Florida and beyond. The Waitt Institute, in partnership with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is making available cutting edge, unmanned, deep ocean exploration tools called autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The inaugural expedition launches on 4 December 2008, and taps the scientific expertise and resources of Harbor Branch to explore Florida's rare and vulnerable deep coral reefs.
The expedition will utilise these AUVs to create high definition sonar maps of deep water Lophelia coral reefs. These Deep Sea Coral Ecosystems (DSCEs) are currently under threat from destructive bottom trawling and other human-caused impacts. The detailed bathymetric maps compiled during the CATALYST ONE mission will provide much-needed data to researchers and government officials on potential areas for designation as marine protected areas and habitat areas of particular concern in order to protect these fragile resources.
The expedition will be led by John Reed, research professor at Harbor Branch, who has been studying and working to protect these deep corals for over 30 years. 'Currently, there are better maps of the surface of the moon and Mars than the sea bottom off Florida's coastline,' said Reed. 'Our mission is to use the two AUVs to map this area of Florida's deep sea coral reefs for the first time.'
For the initial expedition, Harbor Branch is contributing ocean exploration expertise, expedition logistics, science plan development and execution, as well as exploration resources, including the research vessel Seward Johnson.
A newly-formed partnership dubbed the CATALYST Program is making this and future expeditions possible. CATALYST is a partnership between Waitt Institute for Discovery and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to carry out a series of deep-sea expeditions that make available for the first time a versatile and highly portable deep-sea tool kit and operations team, which can be rapidly deployed anywhere in the world. This unprecedented collaboration features the Waitt Institute's two newly built Hydroid REMUS 6000 AUVs, which can explore depths down to 6,000 metres, or 3.7 miles, below the ocean's surface without a human crew or cables connecting them to a research vessel. These innovative multi-sensor platforms are equipped with high-tech survey instruments capable of recording critical oceanographic data, photo-imaging deep-sea features and producing detailed sonar maps of the ocean floor.
As the founder of the CATALYST Program, the Waitt Institute for Discovery commissioned the construction of two REMUS 6000 AUVs and currently directs the implementation of CATALYST expeditions.
'We are enthusiastic about our partnership with WHOI to make available deep-water technology to the broader oceanographic community,' said Ted Waitt, founder and president of the Waitt Institute for Discovery and founder and former chairman of Gateway, Inc. 'We have a mutual objective: to accelerate and advance deep-sea exploration, cutting-edge scientific research and sustainable ocean policy.'
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution developed and engineered the original REMUS autonomous underwater vehicles and has built an AUV operations team based at WHOI that possesses the expertise to conduct REMUS 6000 expeditions anywhere in the world.