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Deep-Sea Coral Exploration Takes NOAA Researchers to New Depths

NOAA scientists have just wrapped up an expedition to a previously unexplored West Coast deep-sea canyon, on the hunt for deep-sea corals and other marine life. The expedition toured Bodega Canyon, north of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the Sonoma, California coast. The canyon was the focus of the tour, the third in a series of four West Coast coral research cruises this year.

Bodega Canyon is 6,000 feet deep at the edge of the continental shelf. Using an unmanned, underwater vehicle, researchers photographed the canyon's deep-sea corals, sponges, and invertebrates that live on the bedrock and boulders.

"The expedition was phenomenal," said Dan Howard, superintendant of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "We got to work with new technology to get into places we could never go before. We are getting information that was never available before. It will help us do a better job of managing the sanctuary."

The expedition, part of a three-year field research effort, will enable NOAA to gain a better understanding of the biology and ecology of deep-sea corals that grow on the seafloor some 600 to 2,500 feet below the water surface and support diverse marine communities.

"Deep-sea coral provides habitat for fish and other marine life," said Dr. M. Elizabeth Clarke, NOAA Fisheries senior scientist. "Research helps determine the extent and ecological importance of deep-sea coral communities and the threats they face. Sound management of these ecosystems requires scientifically based information on their condition."

Among the threats to the health of these coral communities are fishing activities using bottom-tending gear such as trawls, natural physical disturbance, and ocean acidification.

The 2011 West Coast deep-sea coral expedition began within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington in July and then moved to Bowie Seamount just north of U.S. waters. The final cruise is now underway in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of San Francisco.



Vase Sponges
Two vase-like sponges and sea cucumbers on a mud-covered boulder in Bodega Canyon.