Fig. 1: View from the jetty at Añihue Marine Reserve.
Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.

In February, divers and scientists from Huinay Scientific Field Station successfully transected an underwater area longer than 1.5km, they discovered a remarkable coral bank on 60m depth, sampled interesting sea life in a marine lake and mapped large parts of the sea floor.

For the second time in a year, the scientific team of Huinay Scientific Field Station (HSFS) visited the Pitipalena fjord in Añihue, as a part of a larger inter-disciplinary marine project, involving scientists from all over the world, including Chile, Scotland and Germany. The purpose of the project is to assess the non-living components (abiotic factors) in the environment influencing living organisms in three different fjords in order to create a baseline for large-scale rapid assessments of benthic communities and to increase awareness on diversity of marine benthic assemblages of Chilean Patagonia.

Discovery of a deep-water coral bank. 
Shortly after the arrival at Añihue Marine Reserve, the team assembled the remote operated vehicle (ROV), a special-made underwater robot that can dive down to 500m depth (Fig. 1). It was also with this device during an exploration of the deeper parts of the fjord that the scientific team discovered the impressive coral bank. Vreni Häussermann, the Scientific Director of the field station, explains: “We are extremely thrilled to have discovered the deep-sea coral bank in such a shallow depth. Further research is definitely needed to investigate if there are more of these unknown wonders of nature out there.”

Exploration of the Pitipalena fjord.
During the week-long expedition, the team worked both night and day to keep their tight schedule. A fellow scientist and cartographer, with expertise in sea floor mapping, also known as bathymetry mapping, was covering large areas of the fjord 24 hours around the clock with a sonar to locate important habitats later to be explored by the ROV team. Whereas the deeper parts of the fjord were video transected by the ROV, the shallower depths were explored by a group of divers. On four different sites, clearly distinct from each other, divers conducted photo transects between 0 and 21 m depth to record the biodiversity and to understand the distribution of marine benthic fauna in the shallow region.

Fig. 2: The team is getting ready to launch the first dive with the station’s ROV in Pitipalena fjord. Photo credit: Mette Schiønning.

Santo Domingo lake
On one of the final days, the team also went to the marine lake Santo Domingo which is only connected through a small river to the ocean (Fig. 2). In the crystal clear water, the team sampled a number of extraordinary fauna to find out if the species differ from the species found in the ocean. “It is going to be very exciting to see if any new species have evolved within the lake. When we return to the station, we will start analysing the data to find answers to our many questions,” Vreni said.

Fig. 3: Drone image from Santo Domingo Lake. Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.

Fig. 4: (from left to right) A small colony of sea cucumbers, a jellyfish and sea anemone
Photo credit: Francisco Izquierdo.
The group of scientists cheerfully called the expedition a great success, who also wanted to take the opportunity to thank the entire team of Añihue Marine Reserve for their great help and support during their visit.

If you want to see more from this year´s expedition in Añihue, watch the following short video made by Francisco Izquierdo, an external assistant of Huinay, experienced diver and doctor.