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NCCOS Research Project

Characterizing Spatial Distributions of Deep-sea Corals and Hardbottom Habitats in the U.S. Southeast Atlantic

Primary Contact(s): matthew.poti@noaa.gov
This project began in September 2016 and will be completed in September 2021.

We are compiling observations of deep-sea corals and hardbottom habitats from field surveys and developing spatial predictive models for these organisms and habitats in the U.S. Southeast Atlantic. Maps and geospatial data depicting the observed and predicted distributions of these organisms and habitats will be used to inform environmental risk assessments, environmental impact statements, and other decision-support documents related to the review of proposed offshore energy development in the region.

Why We Care                                                                                                   

2. [FeaturePhoto2_Paragorgia.jpg] “Close-up view of a wall of deep-sea corals, mostly bubblegum coral (Paragorgia sp.) observed at Baltimore Canyon.” Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Close-up view of a wall of deep-sea corals, mostly bubblegum coral (Paragorgia sp.) observed at Baltimore Canyon. Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Deep-sea corals, also known as  cold-water corals or deepwater corals, can create local hotspots of  biodiversity by providing three-dimensional structure that increases the complexity of habitats available for use by other organisms, such as fishes and echinoderms. Deep-sea corals are generally long-lived, slow-growing, and fragile, making them vulnerable to human impacts. Information on the spatial distributions of sensitive benthic biological habitats in deepwater is critical for assessing the potential impacts of offshore activities that may impact these habitats.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) needs such information for the U.S. Southeast Atlantic to manage the responsible development of offshore energy resources and to develop mitigation measures to avoid or minimize impacts to sensitive benthic habitats, including deep-sea coral communities and hardbottom areas capable of supporting benthic communities.


What We Are Doing

This study has three main components:

  1. We are compiling a database of presence-absence observations of deep-sea corals and hardbottom habitats with associated measures of sampling effort (i.e., the area associated with each sample) from segments of video and still images collected during field surveys conducted using underwater vehicles.
  2. We are creating spatially-explicit data layers depicting depth and seafloor topography, seafloor substrate, oceanography, and geography to use as environmental predictors.
  3. We will develop spatial predictive models that relate the occurrence of deep-sea corals and hardbottom habitats to the spatial environmental predictors. We will use these models to produce maps of the predicted spatial distributions of deep-sea corals.

We are preparing a technical report that summarizes the findings of the study and a digital data package containing the database of observations of deep-sea corals and hardbottom habitats and geospatial data layers depicting the model predictions and the environmental predictors used in the models. This data package will be publicly available for download via NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).


Benefits of Our Work

The maps and data products developed for this study will be used by BOEM to inform and support environmental risk assessments, environmental impact statements, and other decision-support documents related to the review of proposed offshore energy development in the region. The maps and data products can also be used to inform other regional ocean planning and management decisions for proposed activities that could impact these sensitive benthic habitats and to guide future ocean exploration in the U.S. Southeast Atlantic.

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