In 1990, the Heraclitus visited southern Florida to gather fresh-water and salt-water plant and animal specimens for the wetland areas of Biosphere 2. The ship then joined the Smithsonian Institution’s research vessel, the R/V Marsys Resolute, in the Bahamas to collect reef rock and algae for Biosphere 2’s ocean system. Off Akumal, Yucatan, the crew gathered hundreds of coral specimens, placing them in large plastic containers that were transported to the surface using flotation bags. The submerged corals were cswiftly transferred to trailer trucks outfitted with artificial lights and special systems to circulate water between the tanks maintain temperature, nutrient levels and salinity. After the three-day drive across the border to the Biosphere 2 complex in Oracle, Arizona, they were swiftly transplanted to the the artificial reef in the mini man-made ocean system.
During the first two years of Biosphere 2 (Mission One, 1991-1993) these transplanted coral specimens lived well above sea-level, under different atmospheric conditions; they flourished and 87 new coral colonies were formed (link) – an outcome of great significance given the ongoing, rapid loss of coral reef ecosystems worldwide.
The coral reef of Biosphere 2 was the largest man-made coral reef and became one of the most studied reefs in history because its interaction with the atmosphere could be precisely measured and monitored. It produced important and disturbing data on the likely impact of rising carbon dioxide on coral reef health and reproduction. In conjunction with researchers at NASA, Ames, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Boston University and the College of Charleston, new remote sensing protocols were developed to map the changes in health and vitality of the reef over time. The R/V Heraclitus would soon employ these methods on an expedition to map the health and vitality of coral reefs around the planet.