World Ocean Census - Extract 15 - A new habitat for Alaska

23 April 2010

When sampling for NaGISA in Prince William Sound, my co-worker dropped a sieve over the side of the boat on which we were sorting our samples. We did a dive to retrieve the sieve (60 feet [18 meters]) and found a totally new habitat for our state. We now know that there are rhodolith beds in Alaska.
– Brenda Konar, Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Census of Marine Life researcher

The discovery of rhodolith beds in Alaskan waters, as described above by Brenda Konar, illustrates how Census work in nearshore environments is shaping the future of marine science and its applications. Rhodoliths are unattached chalky red algae that form dense beds on the seafloor. The Alaska discovery is significant because rhodolith beds around the world occupy an important niche, providing indispensable services within various ecosystems.

These services include acting as a protected nursery for many marine species and a critical habitat for important commercial species, which can include clam and scallop varieties. Scientists are unsure how this newly discovered habitat relates to the surrounding ecosystem, or what role and importance it may have in the health and functioning of Alaska’s nearshore environments. It is another example of how more questions are raised as more is learned about what lives below the surface of the ocean.

Nereocystis, a marine alga commonly referred to as bull kelp, is often found in the nearshore and shallow gulf areas of the Pacific coast of North America. Courtesy of Jim Maragos

Text and images reprinted with permission from World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life by Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scowcroft and James M. Harding Jr., Firefly Books, 2009

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