New efforts in motion to protect little-known deep sea coral

Observations made during NOAA’s 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyon Expedition will help East Coast fishery managers to determine whether and where protection zones for deep sea coral are necessary. (Photos courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)

Observations made during NOAA’s 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyon Expedition will help East Coast fishery managers to determine whether and where protection zones for deep sea coral are necessary. (Photos courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)

CLARA VAUGHN in OCEAN CITY TODAY | 9 August 2013

Scientists know little about deep sea coral, but bodies governing fisheries on the East Coast are taking steps to protect it while they uncover its ecological roles and fisheries’ impacts on the coral ecosystems.

The chairmen of the South Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils signed a memorandum of understanding last month in a landmark effort to protect deep sea coral.

“A lot of times a government agency takes action after damage has already occurred,” said Mary Clark, communication program coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic council. “It’s a real sign of progress.”

New research and funding have increased knowledge about deep sea coral at the same time the council has bolstered its emphasis on habitat protection, Assistant Fishery Plan Coordinator for the council Kiley Dancy said.

Taking steps to protect deep sea coral, which has been found in significant numbers off the coast of Ocean City, “fits in with our overarching goal of developing an ecosystems approach of fisheries management,” Clark said.

MARCO map

A considerable number of coral records reside in Baltimore Canyon, one of the areas that the council is considering protecting with its deep sea corals amendment. (Image courtesy of Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean)

The coral live on the seabed, often more than 150 feet below the water’s surface on the continental shelf and its slopes, lining offshore canyons and near submarine mountains. Like its brighter-colored relatives in the shallows, deep sea coral forms three-dimensional structures that house fish and other species.

“Fishing is hugely important in Ocean City and deep sea corals provide critical habitat for a lot of important marine fisheries, especially the larval and juvenile fish,” Clark said.

Read more at oceancity.com

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