Upcoming Expedition: Discovering Deep-Sea Corals of the Phoenix Islands 2
In 2017, Falkor voyaged to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) with an interdisciplinary team of scientists. The goal was to explore and document never before seen deep-sea ecosystems of PIPA. PIPA is the largest and deepest of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and the first internationally recognized Marine Protected Area (MPA) to be established by a least developed nation – The Republic of Kiribati. The team of scientists worked alongside Kiribati to classify the abundance of deep-sea biodiversity that PIPA holds. Along the way, they characterized deep-sea microbes found in PIPA’s newly illuminated ecosystem. The revelations the science team made with the data they collected in PIPA were plentiful.
One of the 2017 discoveries has recently revolutionized immunology: 80 percent of the 200 plus deep-sea microbes the scientists categorized turned out to have properties that are immuno-silent to mammals. This means that they are neither beneficial nor detrimental to mammalian bodies. Still, their unique immuno-silent properties could have great potential in novel therapeutics like cancer treatments and vaccines.
In June, Falkor will return to PIPA under Chief Scientist Randi Rotjan, with some of the original 2017 science team and a few new members. Rotjan’s team is brimming with questions after the successful 2017 voyage. Their scientific objectives include continuing to investigate deep-sea microbes’ therapeutic potential; examining how ancient cold water corals survive predation by corallivores; and enquiring into the equator’s effect on the ecology of deep coral and sponge communities. The team will also look beyond PIPA, and examine the unexplored depths of the Howland and Baker unit of the United States Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument (PRIMNM)– a neighboring MPA to PIPA and part of the same archipelago. The Phoenix Archipelago (both PIPA and PRIMNM) straddles equatorial waters. Both PIPA and PRINMN offer a glimpse into the deep sea’s natural processes in a relatively untouched part of the ocean, given their status as remote marine protected areas.