Williams—born and bred in the San Francisco Bay Area—understands the sanctuaries’ ecological importance more than most, and capitalized on what he calls “the chance of a lifetime” to explore the region’s relatively unknown biodiversity. Williams and a small team spent a fall week in 2012 exploring the sanctuaries’ southern border near Half Moon Bay. The survey team— afloat in a research vessel—used innovative technologies and small ROVs (Remote Operational Vehicles) to investigate vibrant offshore life in waters reaching 1,400 feet deep.
Two years later, the team surveyed a swath of sea inside a proposed sanctuary extension near Bodega bay. Rumors had swirled that President Obama intended to massively expand the sanctuaries, and federal authorities needed a rock-solid scientific argument before moving forward. During this second survey, Williams spotted a long finger of white coral jutting out from a rocky area 600 feet below the ocean’s surface. Williams recalls saying, “We need a sample of that, because we have no idea what it is.”
The specimen—a brand new species of deep-sea coral from the genus Leptogorgia—served as a brilliant symbol of the region’s ecological importance, and helped strengthen the case for sanctuary expansion.