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New discoveries & management decisions in Deep Sea Coral Research & Tech Program report to Congress

by NOAA Fisheries 7 May 13:06 UTC
Vermillion rockfish with gorgonian coral on the northeast wall of Santa Cruz Canyon in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary © NOAA and Marine Applied Research and Exploration

NOAA's Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program just released its Report to Congress (PDF, 8.25MB). It showcases new accomplishments and scientific discoveries and summarizes exciting activities from 2018 and 2019.

The deep sea is the largest habitat on Earth, and the least well known. Our research improved our understanding of deep-sea coral communities, supported management decisions, and leveraged joint priorities with different partners.

Improving understanding of deep-sea coral communities

Deep-sea corals create habitat for countless species off of every coastal state in the country. They offer significant ecological value and support a number of U.S.-managed fishery species. These productive habitats provide spawning grounds for commercially important fish such as grouper, snapper, sea bass, and rockfish, as well as shrimp, and crab. The high biodiversity of deep-sea coral and sponge habitats has made them fertile ground for new species and new natural product discoveries.

NOAA significantly improved our understanding of deep-sea coral communities during the past two years. We supported large-scale underwater surveys of deep-sea coral communities throughout most regions of the country. As a result, NOAA and our partners:

  • Described 21 new deep-sea coral species
  • Discovered the most expansive area of deep-sea coral reefs known to date off the U.S. Southeast coast
  • Mapped 55,000 square miles of previously poorly understood seafloor in high resolution

Supporting management decisions

The Program's cutting edge and collaborative research informed critical management decisions about deep-sea coral habitats. Our data informed deep-sea coral habitat conservation decisions by the Pacific, New England, and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils during the past two years. These councils proposed new fishing regulations that would increase protection for significant amounts of seafloor habitats—most designed explicitly to protect deep-sea corals. They also reopened less vulnerable habitat to fishing.

Managers in every region of the country have now used the Program's discoveries and scientific findings. They use our information to make informed decisions about fishing regulations, protected area boundaries, aquaculture planning, precious coral harvest management, and more.

Advancing science and understanding through partnerships

The Program works with a variety of partners and leverages complementary areas of expertise and resources to pursue joint priorities. The shared vision and investment with partners enables us to advance the state of deep-sea science and better understand these complex ecosystems. By working with partners, we move beyond simply locating unknown deep-sea corals. We collaborate to better understand genetic identification, aging, damage and recovery assessment, population connectivity, and habitat prediction.

The Program and its partners are committed to continuing research activities that improve our understanding of deep-sea coral communities, and aid resource managers in developing and evaluating management options for these valuable habitats on which U.S. fisheries and communities depend.

About the program

NOAA's Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program is the only federal research program dedicated to increasing scientific understanding of deep-sea coral ecosystems. The Program works closely with the nation's eight regional fishery management councils to address key fishery management needs and inform decision-making. The Magnuson-Stevens Act authorized the Program and requires a biennial report to Congress to summarize the steps taken by NOAA to identify, monitor, and protect deep-sea coral areas, including the Program's research activities and results.

For more information about the Program's outreach and education efforts, updates to the National Database for Deep-Sea Corals and Sponges, and detailed maps of deep-sea coral and sponge locations and their protections, see the 2020 Report to Congress' online appendices (PDF, 2.89MB).

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