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Crinoid ecology on a deep, tropical island slope - Roatán (2012-2015)

Deep-water, tropical rocky seafloors are among the least studied habitats in the ocean. Karl Stanley’s three-person submersible, stationed on Isla Roatán off the coast of Honduras in the western Caribbean Sea (, affords a unique opportunity to visit, and re-visit, the same locations, and even the same individual marine creatures, at depths as great as 2000 feet. Just a 20-minute surface run out of Half Moon Bay takes us beyond the shelf for a vertical drop into the depths. I have participated in two main projects here with paleontologists Tom Baumiller (University of Michigan) and Forrest Gahn (Brigham Young University, Idaho). Both focus on crinoids—the sea lilies and feather stars: one on the ecology of what I call a ‘barnacle crinoid’ Holopus, because of its stumpy form (funded by NSU), and the other on predation and its effects on the depth distribution of crinoids (funded by National Geographic). Crinoids have a vast and important fossil record. Investigating the living species provides insights into evolution and life in ancient seas. We have also collaborated with NOAA scientists to learn more about the distribution, ecology and growth of local deep-water corals and other organisms. An unexpected bonus was observations that led to publication of Messing CG, Stanley K, Reed JK, Gilmore RG (2013) The first in situ habitat observations and images of the Caribbean roughshark, Oxynotus caribbaeus Cervigón, 1961. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 126(3):234–239.

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