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Cold-Water Coral Geographic Database Update for the Gulf of Mexico

Project Goal

To document the distribution and diversity of deep-sea corals (> 50 meters deep) in the Gulf of Mexico by compiling records from state and federal agencies, museums, local research institutes and published reports. Determine if the types of deep-sea corals vary by depth and region in the Gulf of Mexico and whether there are hotspots of diversity and abundance.

Geographic Location

Gulf of Mexico

Approach

Maps include 1,964 deep coral records -- 1,363 octocoral, 331 stony corals, 263 black corals, and 7 records of lace corals. Data were gathered from several record-keeping institutions, databases, and reports including Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Texas Cooperative Wildlife Collections, United States Geological Survey, and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, among others.

Results

Deep-sea coral assemblages vary by depth and region. The highest diversity of Gulf of Mexico octocorals was found in water depths ranging from 50-800 meters deep. The highest abundance of deep-sea coral records was in the Straits of Florida and in the Northwest Gulf of Mexico, near the vicinity of Deepwater Horizon. Highest diversity was also in the Straits of Florida and in the Northwest Gulf of Mexico along the outer continental shelf.

Importance to Management

The data will be used to generate maps and predictive models of the location of deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico to gauge the impacts of Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The maps will aid marine spatial planning by supporting marine protected area network designs for Gulf waters.

Fiscal Year 2010 Funding

$36,000

Point of Contact

Dr. Peter J. Etnoyer, Peter.Etnoyer@noaa.gov