Soft Coral sclerites

Invertebrates

Invertebrates have an important role in the ecosystem and food chain for fish, marine mammals and humans. In the past, NWFSC has monitored invertebrate populations as indicators of ecosystem health, or used them in laboratory studies to assess toxicity of contaminants. Recently, NOAA scientists have recognized that cold water, soft corals off the coast of Washington and Oregon are vulnerable to damage from trawling activities. Little is known about these slow growing, deep water corals, so as part of NOAA’s mission to protect living marine resources, the Molecular Genetics Team of the Conservation Biology Division is using molecular tools combined with SEM images of skeletal structures to identify and characterize the deep water coral species living in our coastal waters.

  • Soft coral sclerite

    Soft coral sclerite

    Soft corals have skeletons that are composed of thousands of tiny needle-like structures called sclerites that allow the animals to be flexible like a plant. Sclerite morphology can be used to help identify coral species.

  • Sand dollar tube feet

    Sand dollar tube feet

    Like other echinoderms, sand dollars have tiny tube feet to help them move from one place to another.

  • Mouth of a Salmon louse

    Mouth of a Salmon louse

    This “louse” is actually a small copepod that eats the mucus and skin of salmon. Although most copepods spend their whole life swimming in the plankton, a few species are parasites on fish.