As a shallow-water biologist, Catherine McFadden’s usual method of coral specimen collection is via SCUBA diving. She also tends to get seasick if she spends much time on a boat. So, when her colleague, deep-water biologist and Harvey Mudd postdoctoral researcher Andra Quattrini, asked McFadden to take her place aboard a two-week, deep-sea exploration cruise last summer, it was with some hesitation that McFadden agreed. Fortunately for her, she didn’t get sick, she took her first-ever dive in a submersible vessel, and she ended up being part of an exciting discovery.
“We thought there might be some coral at the site, but I was expecting a fairly barren landscape of mud and rock with just some small, isolated coral colonies here and there,” says McFadden, the Vivian and D. Kenneth Baker Professor of Biology at Harvey Mudd College.
Instead, McFadden and the expedition’s chief scientist Erik Cordes “landed on a massive coral reef formed by a mix of dead coral rubble and large, dense stands of living coral,” she says. “It’s pretty mind-blowing to know that the existence of this huge biological structure was completely unknown until now and to have been one of the first humans to visit it.”