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Igniting a Discourse on Deep-Sea Sponge Science and Conservation

Project Goal

To advance the understanding of deep-sea sponge ecosystems needed for their conservation.

Geographic Location

U.S. and International


Deep-sea sponge grounds have begun to gain attention in the U.S. and internationally as important habitats for biodiversity in need of conservation. Both scientific understanding and public awareness of these communities, however, are in their infancy. Outlined in the NOAA Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems, NOAA has committed to take additional steps to understand and conserve these habitats and the communities they. NOAA convened a Symposium Session at the 2nd International Marine Conservation Congress that highlighted the importance of these communities, summarized the current state of the science (particularly for the Northeast Pacific) and exchanged information on best practices for their conservation.


The session was held in May 2011 with participants from the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. A review paper, authored by the invited speakers and panelists, is being prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Importance to Management

Deep-sea sponge grounds are a key component of deep-sea ecosystems, creating complex habitats for numerous species. Sponges, with rich and varied symbiotic associates, are also among the most prolific sources of useful bioactive compounds, including important pharmaceuticals. These values can be threatened by human activities, particularly bottom-trawl fisheries. This session served to raise awareness about these unique ecosystems and share approaches for their conservation.


NOAA’s Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems
United Nations Environment Programme’s Report: Deep-sea Sponge Grounds: Reservoirs of Biodiversity

Fiscal Year 2011 Funding


Point of Contact

Thomas F. Hourigan, Tom.Hourigan@noaa.gov