Stay Connected


NOAA Fisheries Approves Amendment to Protect 14 Million Acres of Deep-Sea Coral

At the beginning of the millennium few people knew that there were vast areas in deep waters off the southeastern coast of the United States that were virtually carpeted with corals. Scientists at that time were just beginning to realize the extent and importance of these "hidden" ecosystems—some of which are thousands of years old. Now, NOAA Fisheries has approved a historic amendment to protect an area of deep-sea corals off the South Atlantic coast.

The amendment, proposed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, establishes five deepwater coral habitat areas of particular concern off the coasts of eastern Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. This amendment will protect more than 14 million acres of sensitive coral habitat (an area twice the size of Maryland) where bottom-tending fishing gear and anchoring by fishing vessels is prohibited. This is the culmination of more than five years of collaboration between the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and other offices throughout NOAA.    

The Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program is now supporting a three-year field research effort to map and characterize these deep-sea coral ecosystems. Coral samples allow scientists to measure environmental changes such as ocean temperatures and productivity, often over thousands of years. The reefs might act as barometers for impacts associated with ocean acidification and climate changes.