by | Nov 27, 2019 | 0 comments

Diving into an ancient forest

Although it sounds like the stuff of fairytales, there really is an ancient forest, made of actual trees, sitting on the sea floor off the coast of Alabama — and OGL biologists are about to explore it.


At OGL, our mission is to preserve the threatened biological diversity of our ocean. So, when given the opportunity to survey a secret underwater forest with undocumented biodiversity, we had to dive in!


The story begins some 60,000 years ago along the banks of a lazy river near the coast of Alabama, where a stately forest of giant trees grew undisturbed by humans. People, after all, would not arrive on this continent for many tens of thousands of years. Rising sea levels then submerged the forest under 60 feet of water and buried it in a thick layer of sediment and mud. This time capsule remained sealed until 2004, when it was likely uncovered by the 90-foot waves of Hurricane Ivan.


After the hurricane, local fishermen noticed exceptional catches in the area. Puzzled, they reached out to dive shop owner Chaz Broughton to take a closer look. What at first glance seemed to be a lively coral reef, divers soon realized was an underwater forest, dominated by cypress trees, alders, and oaks. The thriving ecosystem is home to schools of fish, sea anemones, and a dizzying diversity of invertebrates.


Ben Raines, Writer and Director of “The Underwater Forest,” captured divers retrieving wood samples for their research. 


This underwater ecosystem is a treasure trove of information for understanding long-term climate change, and provides a window into how environments respond to rising sea levels. Climate scientists have been conducting experiments to learn more about the changes that occurred over thousands of years to this unique and isolated ecosystem.


In December, supported by a grant from the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and led by OGL Director, Dr. Dan Distel, OGL scientists and divers will explore the diversity of invertebrate animals and bacterial communities associated with this site. It will be the first biodiversity survey of an ancient submerged forest, and their findings will hopefully lead to advancements in medicine and biotechnology.


We are thrilled to take part in this exciting exploratory research and are eager to share our findings. Interested in helping fund future projects like this one? Support OGL’s biodiversity and preservation research here!


Follow OGL on social media to stay updated on our research trip in December!


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