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South Atlantic Deep Coral Assessment and Database Portal

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The primary objective of this project is to conduct an assessment of existing geospatial products, to support mapping and characterizing of deep coral reefs ( > 30m depth) within tropical and temperate latitudes of the U.S. EEZ. This is a regional project that is part of a larger, national initiative to identify and map deep corals in U.S. waters.

South Atlantic deep coral mapping priority areas within the “Stetson-Miami Terrace”
Image: South Atlantic deep coral mapping priority areas within the “Stetson-Miami Terrace” Proposed Coral Habitat of Particular Concern (CHAPC) and Pourtales CHAPC. Map from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Project Summary

NMFS’s Office of Habitat Conservation and NOS’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment-Biogeography Branch (BB), in support of the Deep Coral Program (DCP) under the direction of the Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), will conduct an assessment of existing geospatial products to support mapping and characterization of deep coral reefs ( > 30m). The DCP has a critical need to map, characterize and assess the distribution and status of deep coral reefs in both tropical and temporal latitudes.

Research on deep-sea coral ecosystems (DSCE) has lagged behind similar efforts on shallower systems. There are a variety reasons for this: DSCE research faces logistical constraints not present in littoral zones; the constituency advocating for DSCE research is smaller and less vocal; jurisdictional responsibility is more complicated; and financial limitations often result in funding being directed towards areas with greater and/or faster returns on investment.

NOAA intends to address deep-sea coral issues through a “One NOAA” approach which includes multiple Line Offices and extramural partners. Goals for FY2009 include: 1) identify highest priority exploration, research, and management activities which provide the necessary information to implement appropriate management measures to protect and conserve DSCE; and 2) conduct initial field and data management programs to address identified priorities. Most of the pioneering studies on DSCE off the Southeast U.S. have been done by scientists in academia and private research organizations; however, the scope of these investigations is often limited geographically and by discipline. NOAA has the statutory authority, scientific expertise, and assets (vessels, equipment, and personnel) to take the lead role in locating, mapping, characterizing, understanding, protecting, and managing DSCE. It is the intent of this project to describe how NOAA and partners plan to address deep-sea coral research and management in the U.S. South Atlantic.

The U.S. South Atlantic (outer shelf and slope off Carolinas to Florida) is the initial area of study due to: the abundance of scleractinian and other coral habitats (e.g., octocoral, black and gold corals) in the region; the paucity of available habitat maps; and immediate management needs. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is taking a precautionary step with the establishment of deepwater Coral Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC). The proposed areas encompass ~60,000 km2 of deepwater coral ecosystems representing essential fish habitat for several managed species within the snapper grouper complex. In addition, the SAFMC is also proposing designating "allowable gear areas" for the golden crab and deepwater shrimp fisheries which occur within and in the vicinity of the HAPCs, respectively. However, accurate maps of the majority of these areas do not currently exist and the SAFMC is particularly concerned with direct and indirect impacts from fishing activities on DSCE in the region. The SAFMC has identified three priority areas for Florida focused on golden crab, royal red shrimp and wreckfish fisheries as a starting point for deep-sea coral program activities.

Approach: Initial field efforts will employ a three-tiered approach: systematic reconnaissance mapping; targeted high-resolution mapping; and in situ groundtruthing and research to understand the ecological role of deep-sea coral.

Shore-based efforts will concentrate on the development of a DSCE Decision Support System, including: 1) initiation of a Web-based repository for both the data collected directly through this program as well as that which is available in existing databases not owned by NOAA; and 2) development of new Information Management tools that facilitate decision-making by DSCE managers and promote ocean literacy.


At Present

The following products are now available:


Three major products are anticipated for the proposed work:
  • A digital database on known locations of deep reefs, including imagery
  • GIS maps for known location and condition of deep reefs and potential locations of deep reefs based upon species’ habitat suitability models.
  • GIS assessment products that integrate information on the distribution of deep reefs, associated living marine resources, and interactions with fisheries.


Relevant Links

Time Frame

Ongoing: Spring 2009 - Fall 2010

For More Information

Project Manager:
1305 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-713-3028 x171

Project Manager:
1305 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-713-3028 x112