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Deep-Sea Corals

While many of us might not ever have the chance of seeing deep-sea corals in their natural setting, we still have an interest in making sure they are left unharmed. They provide vital habitat for numerous fish and invertebrate species, including commercially important grouper, snapper, sea bass, rockfish, shrimp, and crab. They are also home to organisms that produce chemicals with great potential for biomedical uses.

Scientists have discovered deep-sea coral habitats on continental shelves, slopes, canyons, and seamounts throughout U.S. marine waters, yet their full geographic extent is still unknown. NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program studies and provides scientific information needed to conserve and manage deep-sea coral ecosystems.

What are Deep-Sea Corals?

Deep-sea corals can live for hundreds or thousands of years, creating complex communities at ocean depths where the light is dim down to more than 10,000 feet deep. Some deep-sea coral species form reefs that very slowly grow more than 300 feet tall. Other species, shaped like bushes or trees, can form assemblages similar to groves or forests on the seafloor.

What’s Happening to Deep-Sea Coral Habitats?

Most deep-sea corals grow extremely slowly. Once damaged, the corals and the communities they support may take centuries to recover, if they recover at all.  Deep-sea corals are vulnerable to disturbance caused by fishing gears such as bottom trawls that contact the seafloor. They can also be damaged by activities associated with energy exploration and development, cable deployment, and other activities that disturb the seafloor. Additionally, ocean acidification—a result of the ocean absorbing increased carbon dioxide—can affect corals’ ability to grow and maintain their structures.

About NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program

In 2009, NOAA launched the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program to provide scientific information needed to conserve and manage deep-sea coral ecosystems. Born from the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, it was developed in consultation with the regional fishery management councils and in coordination with other federal agencies and educational institutions.

Guided by the NOAA Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems, our objectives are to:

  • Produce sound science to support NOAA’s role in managing fishing impacts and to address threats to deep-sea coral ecosystems.
  • Support conservation in National Marine Sanctuaries.
  • Integrate the expertise and resources available across NOAA.

As the nation’s resource for information on deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems, our program supports:

  • 3-year field studies in priority regions.
  • Analysis of existing information about deep-sea coral ecosystems.
  • Study of the distribution and intensity of fishing activities that might damage deep-sea corals in federal waters.
  • Investigation of coral and sponge bycatch in fisheries.