DROP is a multidisciplinary Smithsonian project exploring the diversity of tropical deep reefs off the coast of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean. Deep reefs are natural extensions of shallow water reefs. But because they lie beyond SCUBA diving depths, deep reefs are underexplored ecosystems worldwide.
DROP is a 2011 and 2012 Smithsonian Grand Challenge Award project funded in part by the Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet, National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Why DROP? Why now?
Shallow water coral reefs are in peril globally but comparatively little is known about deep reefs, including the diversity of life they harbor, how they change over space and time, and what role they may play in the survival of shallow reefs above. Submersible diving to 1,000 feet allows Smithsonian marine scientists to explore these questions.
Documenting biodiversity is at the core of the Deep Reef Observation Project. Diversity doesn’t stop at the depths where one can SCUBA dive (about 120 feet), and submersible diving gives DROP scientists the unique opportunity to explore a tropical reef ecosystem from 0-1,000 feet. Initial investigations of Curacao’s deep reefs resulted in the discovery of numerous previously undescribed species.
Equipped with an understanding of what lives in this ecosystem, DROP scientists can start monitoring how that diversity is changing over time. By developing and implementing methods of standardized sampling and recording long term temperature changes, they can begin to explore how deep reef communities are being affected by our changing climate, acidifying oceans, increasingly polluted waters and invasive species. In the winter of 2012 the DROP team will expand their deep reef exploration efforts, transporting the submersible to other areas in the Caribbean on the scientific research vessel R/V Chapman.
Read more about DROP and submersible trips off of Curaçao last summer in our 'Summer in a Sub' blog series.