Inspire future young shoalers by supporting Acid Horizon

Have you heard about Acid Horizon? If you haven’t yet, there’s no time better than now.  Learn how you can help a group of our very own shoalers share an important and visually stunning message about one of the major threats facing our oceans (click here or like it on Facebook). First watch the video below and then read on.

Dr. Erik Cordes (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Dr. Erik Cordes with Alvin in the background (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Awesome right? Today we’re lucky to present an interview with Temple University Assistant Professor Dr. Erik Cordes, who specializes in the ecology of cold-seep and deep coral communities, about his work examining the impacts of ocean acidification. A Star Island Corporation Board Member, he’s enlisted the help of life-long Star Island friends Kurt Langer and Ivan Hurzeler to film his cruise in the Gulf of Mexico next April-May on the E/V Nautilus and the dives he’ll be making in the well-known deep sea submersible Alvin.

The dives will give him firsthand evidence on how the deep sea corals he studies have been able to better withstand the changing chemistry of the ocean. Now I know it’s hard to think about how ocean acidification might impact our time on Star Island. Dr. Cordes, who traces his love of the ocean to growing up on Star, explains:

Ocean acidification is going to impact everyone’s life in the near future, if it isn’t already. This past year saw the fewest young oysters settling in Washington state in history. In the Gulf of Maine, ocean acidification will result in increases in disease in lobsters. No one wants to see lobster night affected! (Except maybe some waitrae). The problem in the deep sea is that we are just beginning to understand just how connected it is to the surface.

But to get this message out (more from Dr. Cordes on ocean acidification below) and make the full-length film, they need our help raising funds. They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign which has only 24 days left. (Kickstarter is a way independent artists fund their creative projects by reaching out to their own communities). As part of their campaign, the filmmaker’s shared with us this appeal to the Star Island community for your help:

A film like this has the potential to inspire young people (and future shoalers) to be better stewards of our oceans and the world’s climate. (The Sundance Film Festival agrees, recenty featuring it on their web site.) Just listen to how the film’s producer and Star Island Corporation Member Kurt Langer describes it:

This is a film we are very proud of because it not only informs the public about Ocean Acidification, but tells a riveting story about the perils of deep-sea exploration and what that means for the scientists and their families.  We will be capturing images from the abyss that no one has ever seen before, and at the same time we’ll be painting an intimate portrait of one of our fellow Shoalers.

Clearly the Star Island connection is very important to the filmmakers. Langer adds:

In a very real sense, this film is a product of Star Island.  All three of us (Erik, Ivan and myself) have been going out to Star since we were in kindergarten.  Our love of the ocean and our sense of responsibility for its well-being are values that we learned on Star.  We know that every Shoaler reading this feels the same sense of stewardship, and that’s what makes Star Island such a special community and unique backdrop for portions of our film.

Read on to see some of the creatures that could be featured in the film and the rest of Dr. Cordes’s interview.

A deep sea coral ecosystem (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

A deep sea coral ecosystem (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Not yet sure ocean acidification poses a serious problem? We asked Dr. Cordes about his work with deep sea communities and the link to our own lives. In an e-mail, he wrote:

There are species of fish and shrimp that migrate from the surface at night to the deep-water reefs during the day – every day! If you lose those reefs, you lose the habitat that these important species use for half of their lives. That will cause huge effects throughout the food chain.

We took a shot at explaining ocean acidification in a post last spring (check out this link to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Brief). Here I share one of the most honest explanations I’ve heard from a scientist, Dr. Cordes:

It’s a difficult thing to explain. To be honest, I don’t fully understand all of the chemistry behind the process, or the biochemistry that makes it difficult for corals to lay down their skeleton. Luckily, I don’t think I’m alone. This is a tough problem and one that scientists have only recently tried to tackle.

Thankfully for us, Dr. Cordes does offer an explanation:

The basic idea is that as the carbon dioxide that we are dumping into the air makes its way into the ocean, it dissolves and turns into carbonic acid. The more acid, the lower the pH, and the lower the pH, the fewer carbonate ions are available. Lots of different species use carbonate to make their skeletons – corals, oysters, mussels, sea urchins, and a lot of the single-celled plankton that make 50% of the oxygen we breathe.

Lophelia, or a cold water coral polyp only found in deep waters of the North Atlantic (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Lophelia, or a cold water coral polyp only found in deep waters of the North Atlantic (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Dr. Cordes has already been finding some surprising results through his research in the Gulf of Mexico. He writes:

We’ve actually been surprised at how well the corals are doing considering how acidic the deep sea is already. A few years ago, we had no idea what the true pH of the deep Gulf of Mexico was. That shocked me when I learned that. Once we had the data, we found out that the coral reefs in the deep Gulf were somehow surviving the most acidic waters of any reef in the world. Now we have to go back and find out how they are doing this.

Many other species of corals (such as those described in our previous post) are not doing so well. Thankfully scientists have the means to study areas of the ocean that were once too remote thanks to technology like Alvin which is launched from the E/V Nautilus. Dr. Cordes has been fortunate to use the submersible before.

I love using Alvin. I’ve been lucky enough to go on six different research cruises with it. But this will be my first in the new Alvin. It has been completely redesigned, with a near personnel sphere, new skin, new cameras, everything. It’s very exciting. I gives you a perspective that is simply impossible to get in any other way.


And the film will capture some of the magic he feels when he’s inside the submersible. He describes it here:

There’s nothing like the feeling that you get as you slowly descend into the darkness, then flip on the lights on the bottom and see this immense coral reef down there in the dark. It’s really spectacular. We’ll try to convey as much of that excitement and beauty as we can. That’s what I really need Ivan and Kurt’s help in bringing it to all of you!


As for the film, Dr. Cordes writes:
Most of the film will be shot on a research cruise in April and May of next year. We are hoping to raise enough money through Kickstarter to get us the gear we need to do a good job shooting the film, and for the time it will take to get it in the can. Then there will be a lot of editing that will need to be done, and a few more shoots in different locations – possibly including Star next summer. Our goal on Kickstarter is $25,000 but honestly it will take more than that to do this really well. We’re trying to make a film that will bring some attention to this issue and to the amazing deep sea communities that are right in our own backyard. The more we can raise, the further the film will go!
A deep water coral community (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Another type of deep water coral community (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Find the film’s Web site here:
Find the Kickstarter campaign here:
Like the project on Facebook here:
You may also recall that Dr. Cordes wrote a post for us about his cruise last summer determining the fate and effects of the oil and gas released during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Find it here:

1 thought on “Inspire future young shoalers by supporting Acid Horizon

  1. Pingback: Atlantic deep sea corals, new study | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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