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Habitat Suitability Modeling and Field Validation for Deep-Sea Corals in the Northeast

Project Goal

To survey and groundtruth known or suspected deep-sea coral habitats associated with deepwater canyons off the coast of the northeastern US and begin revision of a northeast deep-sea coral habitat suitability model.

Geographic Location

Deepwater canyons off the Northeast Coast

Approach

An existing habitat suitability model that was partially funded by this Program in FY11 was improved by: 1) adding additional critical predictor variables and 2) including the Northeast's deep-sea sponge records and finer scale bathymetry data in order to examine specific canyons and slopes. A towed camera system was used to survey canyon areas to characterize benthic habitats and identify areas of coral presence as well as groundtruth areas predicted to be coral hotspots based on data provided from the habitat suitability model, newly collected multibeam data, and historical coral records.

Results

Based on data collected, knowledge of deep-sea coral diversity and distribution in Northeast canyons has increased exponentially. Deep-sea coral habitat was matched to high-resolution bathymetry maps through ground-truthing of bottom topography. Thus, contemporary, geo-referenced data on deep-sea corals and sponges are also characterized by habitat. The Northeast deep-sea coral habitat suitability model was qualitatively validated. The model correctly predicted suitable coral habitat as well as hotspots of coral abundance and diversity (i.e., Gilbert Canyon). Antipatharians (black corals) were discovered in Gilbert Canyon, which represents new records for this region.

Importance to Management

Results of this project will provide data necessary for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regional fishery management councils to draft management alternatives for designating deep-sea coral zones in the Northeast, support the Northeast's Habitat Blueprint Initiative, and add georeferenced records to NOAA’s National Deep-Sea Coral Geodatabase.

Fiscal Year 2012 Funding

$75,000

Point of Contact

Martha Nizinski, Martha.Nizinski@noaa.gov