Global climate change has affected coral reefs worldwide. The combined impact of thermal stress and other disturbances on shallow reefs resulted in the general decline of coral reef-associated organisms, and of the ecosystem services which many coastal communities rely on. Mesophotic, or deep reefs, are found from 30 meters and below where light is significantly lower than shallow reefs. Mesophotic reefs are important habitats for many species of corals, fish, sponges, and other marine life. However, these reefs may still be vulnerable to man-made disturbances that are present in shallow areas. It is therefore crucial to obtain information on the ecology of mesophotic reefs to fully understand the significance of including them in protection efforts.

Initial surveys of some mesophotic reefs in the Philippines have revealed diverse ecosystems, but these reefs have remained understudied and largely unexplored due in part to limitations in the capacity for deep and technical diving. This project aims to provide a closer look at the biodiversity of mesophotic coral ecosystems. Moreover, the genetic material of select coral and sponge taxa will also be examined to better understand how they have adapted to life in the mesophotic, and to explore signatures of resilience. The potential role of mesophotic ecosystems in aiding reef recovery will also be explored by assessing patterns of population-level genetic diversity and population connectivity between coral species from deep and shallow reef habitats.

The Apo Reef Natural Park was selected as one of the program sites because of its rich marine biodiversity and the presence of well-protected offshore reefs that extend to mesophotic depths. The findings of this program will shed light on the importance of Philippine mesophotic coral reefs to support future reef management programs and provide a platform for exploration of the ecological and biotechnological potential of mesophotic organisms.