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Project Details

National Inventory of Deep Coral Distribution and Development of a Geographic Information System

Project Status: This project began in January 2009 and is Ongoing

In support of NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program (DSCRTP), we are locating, mapping, and characterizing deep-sea corals and sponge ecosystems (DSCE); providing spatial analyses; and reporting the information to scientists and managers to help them implement appropriate measures for protecting deep-sea coral habitats.

Why We Care
Deep-sea corals, also known as cold-water corals, are a fragile, diverse collection of organisms inhabiting waters from 50 to 2,000 meters deep on continental shelves, slopes, canyons, and seamounts. Unlike the well-studied, reef-building, shallow tropical corals, deep-sea corals lack symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) and must take in plankton and organic matter for much of their energy needs instead of relying on photosynthesis to produce food.

Deep-sea corals are also rich in biodiversity. They provide important habitats for a variety of fish and important commercial seafood species, including shrimp and crabs, and some are also being evaluated for their medicinal-compound potential. Because deep-sea corals are long-lived and slow-growing, they are particularly vulnerable to physical disturbance and human activities. Fishing equipment, especially deep-sea trawling gear, can destroy these ecosystems.

What We Are Doing
NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program (DSCRTP) conducts three-year intensive regional initiatives to advance the understanding, conservation, and management of deep sea coral ecosystems. These initiatives, which include research cruises aboard scientific research vessels, generate large volumes of information that must be analyzed and developed into products that coastal managers can use. We are providing data management and GIS services, including gathering information about the distribution of deep-sea corals, their biology, and their role in the ecosystem. We are developing a national database of known locations of deep sea corals, as well as a data management plan to outline policies and procedures for the DSCRTP. This plan will ensure that information generated by the program will be captured, retained, and made available to researchers and the public.

Next Steps
We will continue to support the DSCRTP by providing information and analytical support. We will also continue to gather and research previously documented deep-sea corals information from museums, scientific research institute libraries, and individual research laboratories. An online database of deep-sea coral locations and other attributes will be made available online in 2014.

Related Regions of Study: Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean - Eastern, Pacific Ocean - Western

Primary Contacts: Dan Dorfman, Tim Battista, John Christensen

Research Area: Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Marine Spatial Planning, Coral)

Related NCCOS Center: CCMA

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