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NCCOS Project

Mapping Deep Corals in the U.S. South Atlantic to Conserve Vulnerable Fish Habitat and Ecosystems

This project began in April 2009 and was completed in November 2012

Deep-sea corals provide important habitats for many marine species, including commercial fish. We collected available bathymetric information in the U.S. South Atlantic as part of an initiative of the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program. The data will be used to target areas for deep-sea coral surveys and to develop a predictive model to identify where deep-sea corals are likely to occur. The information will help coastal managers conserve these fragile ecosystems.

Why We Care
Deep-sea corals are known to support deep-water communities, including economically important fishes, such as snapper, grouper, red shrimp, and golden crab. These corals are slow-growing, long-lived, and particularly vulnerable to disturbance. We need a deeper understanding of these habitats and where they occur to protect the wildlife dependent on these important ecosystems.

What We Did
We aggregated all existing bathymetric and related data concerning the U.S. South Atlantic region. The information was then used to target locations for deep-sea coral surveys using remotely operated vehicles and submersibles. The project also developed spatial models to predict where deep-sea corals could be expected to be found.

What We Found
This project identified several areas that were likely to be deep sea coral reefs. These areas were later surveyed and did indeed contain significant new areas of deep sea coral ecosystems. Approximately 10,100 square kilometers (3,900 square miles) of seafloor were mapped during the first three years of this project. These were high-priority areas for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and the results will assist with their evaluations of protected areas for deep sea corals.

Next Steps 
The next step for this project is to develop a predictive model for deep sea corals. We will also be supporting the needs of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council as they review management measures designed to protect these fragile ecosystems.

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