Peter Etnoyer

Peter Etnoyer

Former Fellow 2010-2011

Web Site:

PhD, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (2009)
Master of Environmental Management, Duke University (2001)
Bachelor of Arts, English, Duke University (1988)

Research Interests

I am a deep-sea biologist and project lead for the new Deep-Sea Coral Ecology Laboratory at NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) in Charleston, SC. My primary research interest is in marine biodiversity, and the patterns and processes that underlie marine biodiversity. Deep-sea corals are model organisms because colonies occur worldwide from 50 to 8500 meters depth, and the coral branches provide habitat to fish, shrimp, crabs, and sea stars. Species discovery rates are high. The nature of the relationships between deep-corals, their habitat, and associated species is a primary subject of study at the lab.

The Deep-Sea Coral Ecology lab works in partnership with sanctuary and fishery managers around the US to help explore, discover, and understand deep-coral habitats and their stressor impacts. The research teams use submersibles and remotely operated vehicles to document deep-coral health and condition, and to establish baseline environmental conditions. Key environmental variables include temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, productivity, and aragonite saturation state. Short and long term changes in these environmental variables can affect habitat quality for deep-corals, so oceanographic variability in deep-sea habitats is another focus of study.

SOI-Funded Research

2010 collaborative research activities included:

  • establishment of cold-water aquaria to maintain deep corals alive in culture
  • exploration of new habitats along the Mesoamerican Reef in Roatan, Honduras using Idabel submersible
  • exploration of new deep-coral and sponge habitats along the US West Coast using a Phantom II remotely operated vehicle aboard NOAA ship Bell M Shimada
  • professional development training with European Program on Ocean Acidification
  • oral presentations accepted to ASLO 2011 Aquatic Sciences Meeting.

Primary findings for 2010 included:

  • high diversity and abundance of corals and sponges 400-500 meters deep at three sites in Roatan, Honduras
  • evidence of unique assemblages of invertebrates associated with octocorals, not found on other substrates
  • evidence of predation and regrowth in Roatan's deep-sea octocorals
  • new evidence of scleractinian reef formation on a seamount off Southern CA, with fisheries interactions
  • new evidence of deep sponge habitat in Sur Canyon, Northern CA.

SOI Progress Reports

Etnoyer, PJ, 2010 Annual SOI Fellowship Performance Report

Etnoyer, PJ, 2011-2014 Deep-Sea Corals Habitats Progress Report

Future Projects

Looking forward to continued exploration of newly discovered deep-coral reefs using new tools, including water chemistry profilers and time-lapse cameras. New multibeam data will become available in Southern California, and this will set the stage for photo-transects and instrument deployments to monitor temperature, pH, oxygen, and aragonite saturation. Collecting live corals for the cold aquaria is also a major priority. Our goal is to maintain corals alive under natural conditions for studies related to climate change.

Selected Publications

Etnoyer, PJ, TC Shirley, KA Lavelle. 2011. Deep Coral and Associated Species Taxonomy and Ecology (DeepCAST) II Expedition Report. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 137. NOAA/NOS Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, Charleston, SC. 42 pp.

Etnoyer, PJ, Wood J, Shirley TC. 2010. How large is the seamount biome? Oceanography 23(1): 206-209.

Etnoyer, PJ, Sanchez JA, Wirshing HH. 2010. Rapid Assessment of Octocoral Diversity and Habitat on Saba Bank, Netherlands Antilles. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10668. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010668.

Etnoyer, PJ. 2008. A new species of Isidella bamboo coral (Alcyonacea: Isididae) from Northeast Pacific seamounts. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 121(4): 541-553.

Etnoyer, PJ, Warrenchuk J. 2007. A catshark nursery in a deep gorgonian field in the Mississippi Canyon, Gulf of Mexico. Bulletin of Marine Science 81(3): 553-559


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