animal Type
Maximum Size

3 m

(10 feet) tall



(160–5,900 feet)



also submarine canyons


Plankton and drifting organic material



except in tropical waters


Deep beneath the ocean’s surface, fantastical forests teem with life.

Towering mountains called seamounts dot the deep seafloor and create oases of life. Candy-colored corals grow on these rocky slopes.

Sometimes growing as tall as a horse, the bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea) fans knobby branches into the currents. Paragorgia’s feathery polyps feast on plankton and other organic matter carried by currents washing over seamount slopes.

Life moves at a slower pace in the frigid waters of the deep sea. Paragorgia grows just a centimeter each year. The largest bubblegum corals are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. These are the old-growth forests of the ocean, and they provide a home to a dazzling diversity of fishes and invertebrates. But this unique ecosystem faces a fragile future. Harmful fishing gear can damage and destroy delicate corals, and changing ocean chemistry will make it harder for them to grow.

For nearly 20 years, we have studied the deep-sea coral communities that thrive on local seamounts. 

Our underwater robots revealed ancient bubblegum corals on Davidson Seamount, an extinct underwater volcano about 80 miles southwest of Monterey. We documented a stunning diversity of corals—including some species new to science—at this hotspot of marine life. Thanks to public support, these coral gardens are now protected. In 2008, resource managers expanded the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to include Davidson Seamount. Ocean champions like you played a key role in safeguarding this unique community by speaking up to preserve this pristine wilderness. 

Closer to shore, we have deployed a suite of high-tech instruments to study the Paragorgia population at Sur Ridge off the Big Sur coast. By monitoring these coral gardens, we saw how the feeding habits of bubblegum corals change with the season. When food is plentiful, bubblegum corals stretch their polyps open to collect a feast. But when food is scarce during the winter, the corals keep their polyps closed. Time-lapse photography has revealed that bubblegum corals also feed with the daily tides as currents bring food. These daily and seasonal rhythms underscore how deep-sea animals and environments are connected to the surface waters above.

Studying a day in the life of a bubblegum coral can help us understand how a changing ocean will affect this keystone species.

Help us spread the word about protecting the important, but rarely seen, habitats deep below the ocean’s surface. Together, we are a powerful voice for change. The future of the ocean is in our hands.


Video Clips


Barry, J.P., D. Graves, C. Kecy, C. Lovera, C. Okuda, C.A. Boch, and J.P. Lord. 2017. Chasing the future: How will ocean change affect marine life? Oceanography, 30: 60–71.

Bessho-Uehara, M., W. R. Francis, and S. Haddock. 2020. Biochemical characterization of diverse deep-sea anthozoan bioluminescence systems. Marine Biology, 167: 1–19.

Boch, C.A., A. DeVogelaere, E. Burton, C.E. King, J.P. Lord, C. Lovera, S.Y. Litvin, L. Kuhnz, and J.P. Barry. 2019. Coral translocation as a method to restore impacted deep-sea coral communities. Frontiers in Marine Science, 6: 1–10.

Girard, F., S.Y. Litvin, A. Sherman, P. McGill, A. Gannon, C. Lovera, A. DeVogelaere, E. Burton, D. Graves, A. Schnittger, and J. Barry. 2022. Phenology in the deep sea: Seasonal and tidal feeding rhythms in a keystone octocoral. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 289(1985): 1–10.

Lundsten, L., J.P. Barry, G.M. Caillet, D.A. Clague, A. DeVogelaere, and J.B. Geller. 2009. Benthic invertebrate communities on three seamounts off southern and central California, USA. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 374: 23–32.

McClain, C.R., L. Lundsten, J.P. Barry, and A. DeVogelaere. 2010. Assemblage structure, but not diversity or density, change with depth on a northeast Pacific seamount. Marine Ecology, 31 (Suppl.1): 1–12.