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Deriving Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Distribution Data from Archived Video Records in Northeast U.S.

Project Goal

To develop and test a methodology for reviewing archived underwater images and video and use it to document observations of deep-sea corals and sponges, and add these to the existing NOAA/USGS east coast deep-sea coral database.

Geographic Location

Outer continental shelf and slope of the Atlantic Ocean between Cape Hatteras and Georges Bank


Video and film records collected during 95 submersible and remotely-operated vehicle dives conducted during 1960-1990 and archived at the University of Connecticut’s Undersea Research Center were reviewed by Dr. Peter Auster and one of his students for the purpose of adding to the east coast deep-sea coral database. The project served to determine the “cost-benefit” feasibility of rescuing data from archived records and to identify problems that can be expected when similar efforts are made by other researchers when reviewing archived media.


Corals, sponges, and sea pens were observed in records from 20 dives: octocorals in nine of them and octocorals and/or sea pens in 17. More specific identification was not possible, in part due to poor image resolution and a general inability to identify colonies to species from images. In terms of time spent, the cost of adding these observations to the existing NOAA/USGS east coast deep-sea coral database was high.

Importance to Management

The added data points will enhance the usefulness of the database in identifying candidate areas for deep-sea coral protection on the outer continental shelf and slope of the U.S. Atlantic coast. In order to be cost-effective, future efforts to extract useful spatially-explicit data from archived underwater video and film records should be focused on research projects where the primary objective was to locate and identify benthic organisms like corals. Also, first priority in any data rescue effort like this one should be to review archived media that is in relatively good condition.


Watling, L. and P.J. Auster 2005. Distribution of deep-water Alcyonacea off the northeast coast of the United States. Pp. 279-296 in: A. Freiwald and J.M. Roberts (eds.), Cold-water Coral and Ecosystems, Springer-Verlag, Berlin and Heidelberg.

Fiscal Year 2009 Funding


Point of Contact

Dr. David Stevenson, David.Stevenson@noaa.gov

Locations of 5,416 dive sites deeper than 200 meters in the North Atlantic region with archived video and still imagery data that could reveal additional information on the locations of deep-sea corals. Video was reviewed for 95 of these dives as part of this project.

Credit: Watling and Auster 2005