Biodiversity in the Santa Barbara Channel
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Entering into the office of Westmont College Professor Beth Horvath, take note of her library of journals she has contributed to and various books about sea-life organisms, the ballet shoes strung up on the wall alongside old photographs, and the clippings, articles, and letters from students on her desk. Horvath is a field biologist who specializes in invertebrate zoology with specific research interests in gorgonian corals, evidenced in her roles as a research associate in the Invertebrate Labs at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and as a consultant to various governmental (such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)) and non-governmental agencies in identifying these species.
The Santa Barbara Channel, more so a basin, consists of a water column that decreases in temperature as depth increases, reaching an anoxic region where life was thought not to exist. Horvath shares about the role of biodiversity in the local Santa Barbara channel and NOAA’s latest project to survey the ocean floor of the West Coast of much of North America. This survey anticipates revealing organisms never before described in scientific literature, species spanning multiple phyla. Despite the seemingly non-livable conditions of the deep sea, there is much biodiversity hidden in Santa Barbara.
Horvath advocates for the importance of biodiversity, and the relationships between organisms collectively, because all of creation has a purpose. Horvath says “we should be spending much more time and money to understanding the earth we live on, which we cannot understand until we know who is who.” Furthermore, God tasked Adam with finding and naming the animals of the world, a job that still remains to be done. In that way, people are still doing the work God asked us to do. So many terrestrially-tied people walk alongside the beach, unaware of the underlying systems of the ocean and its ecosystems that allow the world to exist “out of sight, out of mind.” However, Horvath emphasizes the importance of details, declaring that they need more attention. After all, by understanding the characters, we can understand the play.
The disparities of our knowledge of space and the ocean lies in the statistic that only 4-5% of the deep sea, which constitutes 80% of the ocean’s water, has been explored. One challenge facing surveyors is the vast amount of “real estate.”
Gorgonian corals, Horvath’s specialty, are home to a multitude of species, providing a forest of sorts with food and structure for organisms at depth. Horvath identifies these sea fans by the calcium carbonate embedded in their tissue that they eventually secrete. These compounds are complicated and have yet to be analyzed, but dolphin behavior in the Middle East suggests self-medicating properties. There are so many potential pharmaceutical properties in God’s creation, providing guidelines for products scientists can work towards synthesizing.