Federal researchers just returned from a deep-sea expedition near Hawaii’s Big Island to identify why the waters surrounding the archipelago are so abundant in biodiversity, while nearby areas are like sea deserts.
Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the Associated Press researchers took samples from depths of 1,500 to 2,000 feet using trawling nets.
Jack Kittinger, the senior director of the Hawaii program at Conservation International, said some areas in the ocean have more marine diversity than others and they want to better understand what combination of currents, temperature, and topography contribute to this.
Researchers believe part of the reason that the area is so rich with life is that the seafloor dramatically rises as it reaches the surface, bringing with it unique nutrients. They hope to use their findings to pinpoint management and policy needs.
"What we know about the ocean is less than the surface of the moon," Kittinger said.
Another recent mission by Conservation International and the University of Hawaii explored further off the coast of the Big Island at a group of seamounts, which are active and dormant underwater volcanoes that are also rich in biodiversity, probably for many of the same reasons.
"My goal today is to ... find out what's living on them, find out how they support ocean life, what their effect is from ocean currents and essentially what drives the ocean, what makes the ocean what it is," said Conservation International's Greg Stone, a marine biologist on the mission.
Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Honolulu.