NCCOS, NMFS & UNCW use Multibeam SoNAR to Map Deep Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern near Oculina Bank, off East Florida
Scientists from NCCOS, in cooperation with NMFS’s Panama City Lab and University of North Carolina at Wilmington, collected bathymetry and backscatter data on deep coral habitats from September 2nd to 8th onboard the NOAA ship, Nancy Foster. These acoustic datasets were collected approximately 40 nm off the east coast of Florida, extending from Cape Canaveral to Ft. Pierce, using a multibeam (MBES) sound navigation and ranging (SoNAR) sensor well suited for mapping marine environments between 300 and 800 m. The resulting 579 km2 of bathymetry and backscatter imagery will support the characterization, sampling and exploration of a series of deep-water limestone mounds and ridges primarily colonized by the stony coral, Lophelia pertusa. This slow-growing, branching coral is an ecologically and economically important species because it creates habitat utilized by commercially-valuable fish, such as the wreckfish (Polyprion americanus), blackbelly rosefish (Helicolenus dactylopterus), red bream (Beryx decadactylus) and the conger eel (Conger oceanicus). This coral may be threatened in the future by the expansion of bottom fishing and energy exploration activities into deeper waters within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.