Explorers surveying mile-deep sea canyons this week off North Carolina’s Outer Banks say they encountered “spectacular” rock walls draped in deep-sea animals and brightly colored corals.
The discoveries were made in the Pamlico Canyon, 20 miles off the Outer Banks, according to the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research team for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Photos collected during the 20-hour dive revealed bright pink, lavender, blue and red sea life dangling from the walls like ornate Christmas decorations.
“We saw spectacular rock faces, many of which were covered in brisingid starfish, cup corals, and other deep-sea animals that get their food from particles passing by in the water,” said a release from Caitlin Adams, operations coordinator for NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.
“We also observed...skates and cusk eels as well as an octopus, red crabs, spider crabs, squat lobsters, and pycnogonid sea spiders.”
NOAA’s team was in the canyon as part of a 22-day expedition to gather “critical baseline information about deep water habitats” off the Mid- and South Atlantic coasts. Much of the work is being conducted off the Carolinas, including the Hatteras Canyon, Kitty Hawk, Blake Ridge and Lookout Deep, NOAA said.
Submarine canyons like those off the Carolinas qualify as “extreme environments,” Adams said. Hence, the team used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to photograph the treacherous cliffs, walls and outcroppings, she said.
“Submarine canyons... can be as deep and as wide as the Grand Canyon, but they also cut deeply and narrowly into the continental shelf, acting as funnels from the shallow shelf seafloor to the plains of the deep sea,” she said in the release.
“The canyon walls often have visible striations and are studded with cliffs and rocky outcroppings,” the release continued. “Because of their unique geology, canyons also often have unique current patterns and large amounts of suspended sediments in the water column.”
The ROV started at the bottom of the canyon, and slowly moved up, filming and photographing sea life as it ascended, she said. The team also collected coral and sediment samples, she said.