Cars. Moving fast and slow. Horns blaring at one another as we cruise down the Carretera Austral. Lights, lots of them. The smell of street vendors selling food items. Elevator music playing bad covers at the hotel. The sounds and smells of the end of an expedition, a return to civilization and the beginning the long journey home.
Wrapping up an expedition is the time to reflect – on the work that we’ve accomplished over the last few weeks, over the data and samples collected, over the results we hope to find and over what more is left to do.
This expedition has been adventurous (perhaps a little too adventurous at times!), and despite some dark days of wet and rain and equipment failure, everything we set out to do we’ve accomplished….and more.
The goals of this expedition were to collect the final series of samples from a year long monitoring program, to collect the data loggers and to download their precious recordings of temperature, salinity and light; and to take stock of the ecosystems we are working in – how many corals are in these three areas we chose to monitor? How healthy are the corals? What other animals use these ecosystems as home?A red seastar nestled amongst golden zooanthids, another type of soft coral here in the fjords. Photo by Rhian Waller.
This area in Patagonia is truly unique, and I feel extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to do ecological work in this region. The abundance of corals in this area is astounding, yet so few know they’re here, even fewer have ever seen them and even fewer yet truly grasp their importance to our planet.
Coral ecosystems have been called the ‘rainforests’ of the ocean, and while this is true, they’re actually so much more.
These diverse cold-water corals form habitats for multitudes of other species of marine life – from small seastars, worms and bivalves; to larger crabs and fish – and even species that are commercially fished for human consumption. Without the corals that support these species, many fish, molluscs and crustaceans we eat, just wouldn’t be there.
Corals are also important for regulating ocean chemistry. These corals build calcium carbonate skeletons using CO2, pulling it from the seawater they sit in. This CO2 comes from the atmosphere, so these corals are helping to remove and recycle this contributor to global warming.
Many species of coral have also been used in drug development, for treating cancers and other illnesses. Many of the cold-water species have not yet been investigated for their pharmaceutical potential, meaning there might be an untapped wealth of cures living in our deep ocean.
Without corals our oceans would look a lot different, as would our land, and our atmosphere – everything on this planet is interconnected.
In my line of work I see so many areas that are impacted by man’s activities, that every time we see a healthy ecosystem I just have to smile and be happy – as you should too. Without corals our oceans would look a lot different, as would our land, and our atmosphere – everything on this planet is interconnected.
The last few days of this expedition we had the opportunity to explore more areas in the Comau fjord. As we swam at 100ft depth amongst literally thousands of coral polyps extending their white, pink and orange tentacles into the current, I had to smile at the sheer abundance of life. From as far up, and as far down, as I could see using my headlight to cut through the darkness, there were healthy corals.
Now we just need to keep them that way.