Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Science section includes Seafloor Mapping, Oceanography, Deep Sea Coral and Sponges, Wildlife Research, Coastal Habitats, Citizen Science, Ecosystem Processes, Research Surveys, and Research Assets
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Science section includes Seafloor Mapping, Oceanography, Deep Sea Coral and Sponges, Wildlife Research, Coastal Habitats, Citizen Science, Ecosystem Processes, Research Surveys, and Research Assets
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Science section includes Seafloor Mapping, Oceanography, Deep Sea Coral and Sponges, Wildlife Research, Coastal Habitats, Citizen Science, Ecosystem Processes, Research Surveys, and Research Assets Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Science section includes Seafloor Mapping, Oceanography, Deep Sea Coral and Sponges, Wildlife Research, Coastal Habitats, Citizen Science, Ecosystem Processes, Research Surveys, and Research Assets

Deep Sea Coral and Sponge Communities

photo of rockfish in primnoa coral Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary has documented deep-sea corals, also referred to as "cold-water corals," in the sanctuary. Unlike the better known shallow-water tropical corals, these corals live in deep water on continental shelves, slopes, canyons, and seamounts in waters ranging from 50 m to over 2,000 m in depth. Deep-sea corals lack symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) of most shallow reef building tropical corals. So, unlike their shallow water relatives that rely heavily on photosynthesis to produce food, deep-sea corals take in plankton and organic matter for their energy needs. Many deep-sea corals are also extremely long-lived and slow growing animals, which make them particularly vulnerable to physical disturbance.

photo of paragorgia coral Despite scientific advances in the understanding of deep-sea corals, there is still very little known about their growth rates, reproductive cycles, their functional role as habitat for marine species, and their effects on biodiversity. We know that corals and sponges found in the sanctuary act as biogenic structures (created by living organisms) serving a variety of functions for deep-sea invertebrates and fish which can include:
primnoa and paragorgia corals 1) a foraging platform for some organisms, allowing them access to currents higher in the water column; 2) refuge for protection from predators; 3) a source of food; 4) an anchor for egg attachment; and 5) perhaps a nursery area for some species of invertebrates and fishes. Learning the critical functions of these species is changing our view of the undersea world and the importance of these ecosystems.

photo of a vase sponge Deep-sea corals and sponges may be especially vulnerable to natural or human disturbance such as bottom trawling, mineral extraction, and cable trenching - activities that result in physical disruption of the seafloor. Such disturbances could require very long recovery periods.

photo of lophelia coral The advancement of new underwater survey technology has increased our scientific knowledge and provided new opportunities to document more of these resources. For this reason, the sanctuary is always looking for research partnerships to leverage and supplement vital resources to fulfill management goals.

Since many deep-sea corals and sponges in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary are biogenic habitats, they have direct relationships to the Pacific Fishery Management Council's groundfish Essential Fish Habitatimage indicates that the link leaves this site process. And with the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Actimage indicates that the link leaves this site, the regional fishery councils are given discretionary authority to protect deep-sea corals in their own right.

The Council recently released a lengthy comprehensive report on groundfish Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) along the west coast (Washington, Oregon and California). OCNMS has been involved in this five year review process as a member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council's (PFMC) groundfish EFH Review Committee. This Phase 1 report summarizes the results of the review of information that is new or newly-available since the last Groundfish EFH Review was concluded in 2006.

The report includes:

  • A description of the general requirements and elements of EFH;
  • a summary of existing descriptions of EFH for Pacific Coast groundfish;
  • updated maps of seafloor habitat types and bathymetry;
  • current information on the distribution of Pacific Coast groundfish;
  • a summary of models to predict groundfish distribution relative to habitat types, as well as trophic and ecosystem models useful for groundfish EFH;
  • summaries of new information on the life history and habitat requirements of 91 groundfish species;
  • updated information on threats to groundfish EFH and prey species, both from fishing and non-fishing activities;
  • identification of research needs to further refine groundfish EFH.
As part of this effort, the sanctuary program has focused on surveying for sensitive biogenic habitats, including deep-sea coral and sponge communities. Sanctuary-sponsored ROV surveys since 2004 have been contributing video data to this process as well as to the NOAA Deep-Sea Coral Program, which partially funded many of the research survey efforts. This and other sources of new information will be evaluated to determine if they warrant new or additional protection measures as authorized by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Additionally side-scan sonar and multibeam bathymetry surveys by OCNMS have been providing new seafloor maps and characterizations that also contribute to this evaluation process. View additional background of OCNMS mapping efforts.

The Phase I report is huge (83MB) but can be downloaded in sections via the PFMC/EFH websiteimage indicates that the link leaves this site.

Full resolution maps and databases from this report are publicly available at the PaCOOS web siteimage indicates that the link leaves this site.

photo of basketstar and crinoids on paragorgia coral Please check out our link for more information about the tools, data collection and analysis we use during our research surveys. We are also providing you with a link to Deep Coral & Sponge Projects with related data, reports, and products.



Contact for page content: Liam Antrim
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