ACUMEN Spring 2022

20 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 When people hear the term research cruise, they tend to focus on the word cruise. Ph.D. student Nicole Pittoors focuses on the research. She loves these excursions because the research goes on almost all of the time. Her current project takes her to hydrothermal vents in the Eastern Pacific and to deep-sea coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico as she uses genomics to study the dispersal, recruitment and connectivity of benthic invertebrates in an effort to establish baseline data on biodiversity. The biodiversity of benthic invertebrates— organisms without spines that live on the bottom of the sea f loor, such as clams, oysters and corals—is a good indicator of ecosystem health, she explains. Researchers study benthic ecosystems to understand which areas of the ocean are important to protect from human activities, such as oil extraction and deep-sea mining. Pittoors has been working in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, located 100 miles offshore of Galveston, Texas. It is a collaborative project with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Smithsonian Institution, using Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) to understand coral recruitment and benthic biodiversity and Diving Deep WENDY GREENBERG Biologist Nicole Pittoors travels to great depths to measure the health of the ocean