23 to 31 October 2019


Study of the Nutritional Ecology of Mesophotic Corals (ENCOR - Étude de l’Ecologie Nutritionnelle des CORaux mésophotiques​)

A mission to study deep-water corals of the Red Sea with the Monaco Scientific Center (CSM) and the Inter-University Institute in Eilat (IUI).

Deep-water corals

Discovering the secrets of the Red Sea

In the Gulf of Aqaba, many coral reefs are found in the twilight, so-called mesophotic zone, located between 60 and 150 metres deep, between light and total darkness. The biology of those poorly accessible deep-water reefs is still little known. In the north of the Red Sea, they are particularly resistant to global warming, which makes them potential refuges for corals in the future. Hence the importance of the research carried out.


The mission in video

A mission, four objectives

  • Establish an initial state of the biodiversity of the deep-water reefs of Eilat in order to subsequently assess the trends in biodiversity.
  • Gain a better knowledge of the physiology of deep-water corals, and in particular their resistance to a rise in temperature.
  • Understand how these corals, in particular when they depend on photosynthesis, can survive in such deep and low-light environments.
  • Search in these deep-water reefs for new species that have not yet been described.

The ROV, an essential tool

The underwater robot or ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) is provided with an arm to collect coral samples, powerful lighting and high-definition cameras. It is a remote-controlled robot. It can reach a depth of 1 000 m. In the course of this mission, the scientists explored an area between 60 and 150 metres. The recorded images are precious to identify and map the biodiversity present at these depths.  

Images of the ROV

The Gulf of Aqaba, an ideal site for the study

The topography of the Gulf of Aqaba is unique in being relatively deep (800 metres in the middle) and narrow. The mesophotic reefs are very close to shore, making them easily accessible for scientific study. During the mission, the samples collected in the sea during the day were sent at the end of the day to the team ashore. This enabled real-time measurements, such as observation of the photosynthesis and respiration of the corals. 

Gulf of Aqaba. Eilat. The proximity of deep reefs facilitates their study. ©Christine Ferrier Pagès. CSM/Monaco Explorations

Measuring respiration and photosynthesis The work in blue light avoids stress on the corals collected in the depths.  Marcos Schonholz. Monaco Explorations.

The mechanical arm of the ROV enabling coral sampling in full action at a depth of 92 metres. IUI/Monaco Explorations.

Delicate handling of the ROV on the deck. Marcos Schonholz. Monaco Explorations

The oceanographic vessel Sam Rothberg at sea. Christine Ferrier Pagès. CSM/Monaco Explorations.

Shore-based facilities to receive the samples collected at sea. Renaud Glover. CSM/ Monaco Explorations

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They said

A collaborative mission

Carried out in the Gulf of Aqaba from the marine station of Eilat (Israel), the ENCOR mission, supported by Monaco Explorations, was jointly organised by Dr. Christine Ferrier Pagès, head of the coral ecophysiology team at the Monaco Scientific Center (CSM) and Pr. Maoz Fine from the Inter-University Institute for Marine Sciences of Eilat (IUI) in Israel, as part of a long cooperation between these two entities.

An international team

In order to carry out the mission successfully, the teams of Christine Ferrier Pages and Maoz Fine worked alongside international experts, including Pr. Yehuda Benayahu from Tel Aviv University, Dr. Ali Al-Sawalmih, Director of the Aqaba Matine Station (Jordan), Pr. Joerg Wiedenmann of the University of Southampton (United Kingdom), Dr. Assaf Zvuloni and Dr. Assaf Habari from the Coral Beach Nature Reserve in Eilat.

  • Dr. Christine Ferrier-Pagès, Rersearch Director at the Coral Ecophysiology and Ecology Laboratory
  • Dr. Renaud Grover, Researcher,
  • Dr. Vanessa Bednarz, postdoctoral fellow,
  • Mrs. Cécile Rottier, senior technician.

Future research

The operations at sea will be followed by a long study and research work in the laboratory, before the final phase of publication of the results.

The recorded images and the samples collected will be analysed in detail and will be the subject of various investigations: taxonomy, biodiversity study, sequencing the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), study of the response to the evolution of physical and chemical conditions and of the temperature. 

Remote-controlled arm of the ROV collecting a piece of rare sponge. ©IUM/Monaco Explorations

Photo gallery

The ship Sam Rothberg IV anchored in front of the Inter-University Institute. Eilat. © Marcos
Schonholz. Monaco Explorations.

The oceanographic vessel Sam Rothberg in the Gulf of Aquaba © Amir Friedmann.

The joystick makes it possible to remotely control the ROV using the control screen © Marcos
Schonholz. Monaco Explorations.

Control screen of the ROV. © Marcos Schonholz. Monaco Explorations.

Delicate handling of the ROV on the deck © Marcos Schonholz. Monaco Explorations.

Proximity of the deep reefs relative to the coast. © Marcos Schonholz. Monaco

The cable, which is a real umbilical cord, connects the ROV to the ship and transmits all the orders from the
control room to the device. © Marcos Schonholz. Monaco Explorations.

A magnificent soft coral colony revealed on the screen. © IUI.

Christine and Vanessa handle soft corals in blue light © Marcos Shonholz. Monaco Explorations.

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Scientific partners of the mission ​