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Project Details

National Inventory of Deep-sea Corals and Sponges: Development of a Database of Observations and a Web Portal

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

We are working in support of NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program to locate, map, and characterize deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems throughout U.S. and international waters. Information is provided to scientists and managers in readily accessible digital formats to help them implement necessary and appropriate measures for protecting deep-sea coral and sponge habitats.

Why We Care
Deep-sea, or "cold-water" corals and sponges are a fragile, diverse collection of organisms inhabiting waters from 50 to 8,000 meters deep on continental shelves, slopes, canyons, and seamounts in U.S. waters. Unlike shallow water tropical organisms, deep-sea corals and sponges lack symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae). They are heterotrophic suspension-feeders that rely on plankton and organic matter for their energy needs instead of relying on photosynthesis.

Deep-sea corals and sponges 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 organisms are fragile, slow growing, and long-lived, 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 include research cruises aboard scientific research vessels. The research cruises generate large volumes of information that must be properly archived, 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 and sponges, their biology, and their role in the ecosystem. We are developing a national database of known locations, as well as a data schema and 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 in the future.

Next Steps
We will continue to support the DSCRTP by providing guidance and analytical support. We will also continue to gather information about 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 2015.

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

Primary Contacts: Peter Etnoyer, Tom Hourigan, Robert McGuinn

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

Related NCCOS Center: CCEHBR

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