Bishop Museum’s Dr. Richard Pyle fishes in fashion. Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory Teams Up With the Museum to Explore Deep Coral Reefs Off Waikīkī in Style. Enjoy your day, Yareah friends.
Bishop Museum’s dive safety officer and associate zoologist, Dr. Richard Pyle is changing up the meaning of “business casual” with his unusual diving uniform. Instead of wearing a wetsuit like typical divers, Dr. Pyle prefers to use business clothing typically seen in the streets of Downtown Honolulu – a long sleeve collared shirt. What started as a practical solution to warm tropical waters off of Palau has become a trademark look for this scientist.
While Dr. Pyle’s outfit is all fun and games, he is doing some serious work on behalf of the museum and in partnership with the University of Hawai‘i’s Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) to survey and document coral reefs in the deep waters off the south coast of O‘ahu. The group has been using advanced diving technology capabilities of HURL’s Pisces V deep-sea submersible with state-of-the-art mixed-gas, closed-circuit rebreathers, which Pyle and his collaborators have pioneered.
“Combining these two different undersea exploration technologies allows us to conduct research that would be difficult or impossible using either technology alone,” says Dr. Pyle. “The submersible can descend to much greater depths and stay underwater for longer periods of time, while the rebreather divers can inspect the reef more closely and collect specimens of small or mobile organisms more effectively.”
The project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and supported by HURL, Bishop Museum, and the Association for Marine Exploration, is an extension of similar NOAA-funded research conducted off Maui in 2007-2012. The goal of this research is to characterize “Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems” (MCEs), also known as the coral-reef “Twilight Zone,” referring to coral-reef habitat at depths of about 150 to 500 feet below the surface.
This ecosystem has remained almost entirely unexplored because it is below the depths that researchers can safely descend using conventional SCUBA gear, but shallower than where most submersible dives are conducted. During the latest dive with Dr. Richard Pyle, they had the opportunity to combine two undersea exploration technologies: HURL’s Pisces V deep-sea submersible and mixed-gas, closed-circuit rebreathers. Each has its own set of strengths and limitations, but the limitations are overcome when the technologies are combined.
The goals of these dives are to learn what species of algae, invertebrates, and fish use the deep reefs; how many species also occur on shallow-water reefs; how species on the deep reefs “make a living” under the low-light conditions found there; and whether deep reefs contribute to shallow-water populations (e.g. improving fisheries) or serve as a refuge for overfished shallow-water species.
The research team, led by Bishop Museum biologist Dr. Ken Longenecker and including Dr. Richard Pyle, Dr. Ross Langston, Robert Whitton, Matt Ross, Raymond Boland, John Earle, and Sonia Rowley, are focused on several scientific objectives, including general surveys of habitat, as well as documenting the diversity and abundance of fishes, corals, algae and invertebrates at different depths between 200 and nearly 900 feet. The results will help scientists understand whether the deep reefs might serve as a refuge for species exploited commercially on the shallow reefs.
This research was funded by a grant from NOAA’s Undersea Research Program and Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory pursuant to Project number NA09OAR4300219.
About Bishop Museum.
The Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in memory of his wife Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I. Today, the Museum is recognized as the principal museum of the Pacific, housing the world’s largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific artifacts and natural history specimens. More than 350,000 people visit the Museum each year, including over 40,000 schoolchildren. For more information, please call 808.847.3511 or visit www.bishopmuseum.org