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Deep-Sea Exploration to Conduct High-Tech Survey of Florida's Endangered Coral Reefs

Currently, there are better maps of the surface of the moon and Mars than the sea bottom off Florida’s coastline. A unique, deep-sea expedition using cutting-edge autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) will create high definition sonar maps of the coastline of Florida’s rare and vulnerable deep sea coral reefs for the first time.

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 December 4, 2008, and taps the scientific expertise and resources of Harbor Branch to explore Florida’s rare and vulnerable deep coral reefs.

The expedition will utilize 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 meters, 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.

For more information:

The Waitt Institute CATALYST Program
HBOI @Sea – CATALYST ONE Expedition Updates
WHOI Oceanographic Systems Lab
About the Waitt Institute:
The Waitt Institute for Discovery is a non-profit research organization that serves as an exploration catalyst, enabling scientific pioneers to transform the ways in which discoveries are made. The Waitt Institute for Discovery implements innovative technologies in the field through collaborations with world-renowned scientific institutions, synthesizing global expertise and accelerating groundbreaking research. Founded in 2005 by Ted Waitt, The Waitt Institute for Discovery seeks to advance human understanding of the past and secure promise of a better future through exploration and discovery. For more information about The Waitt Institute for Discovery, please visit:
About Harbor Branch:
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University is a research institute dedicated to exploration, innovation, conservation and education related to the oceans. Harbor Branch was founded in 1971 as a private non-profit organization, In December 2007, Harbor Branch joined Florida Atlantic University.
About FAU:
Florida Atlantic University opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University serves more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students on seven campuses strategically located along 150 miles of Florida's southeastern coastline. Building on its rich tradition as a teaching university, with a world-class faculty, FAU hosts ten colleges: College of Architecture, Urban & Public Affairs, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts & Letters, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science, the Barry Kaye College of Business, the College of Education, the College of Engineering & Computer Science, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Graduate College, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.
About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans’ role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit:

Gisele Galoustian | Newswise Science News
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