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Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Identification Training for the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program

Project Goal

To create observer training curriculum for deep-sea coral and sponge identification, develop a sampling methodology, and improve data recording within the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) protocol scheme.

Geographic Location

North Carolina to Maine

Approach

A collaborative effort by several NOAA staff to develop a deep-sea coral guide serving as the basis for classroom instruction received by all new fisheries observers. This guide is available on the NEFOP website and is regularly updated and improved by NOAA staff. There is a continued effort to obtain preserved samples for NEFOP training and to create an information pathway to deliver photographic and actual samples to coral experts for refined species identification. These identifications will then be logged within the NEFOP Species Verification Program allowing for finer species identification.

Results

The NEFOP Coral Program curriculum has been successfully incorporated into all observer certification programs offered at the NEFOP Training Center. During a recent protocol update training session conducted in May 2013, 116 Certified Observers were trained on the NEFOP Coral Program. This program includes basic coral identification skills, sampling and recording protocols, and how corals interface with the NEFOP Species Verification Program. All subsequent observer certification trainings have included coral identification and sampling training. By the end of calendar year 2013, an additional 50 new observers completed training. Additionally, the NEFOP database now includes a wider range of coral species options for recording by the observer. While the program continues to develop and improve, initial training efforts following the guide development appear to have resulted in an increased awareness and ability for observers to record encountered corals. For instance, from 1995 to May 2013, there were a total of 7 recorded observations of sea pens, and from May to November 2013 there were already an additional 7 entries confirmed with photos. In addition, actual samples never before collected by observers for review, such as gorgonians, have been received for further identification.

Importance to Management

The opportunity to more accurately identify and record possible deep-sea coral and sponge bycatch in the various observed fisheries enhances the understanding and conservation of these habitats by improving presence data. These data could then lead to improved mapping of coral habitats and could be used to better understand the distribution of deep-sea corals and sponges and the possible interactions of fisheries upon them.

Links

http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/fsb/training/

Fiscal Year 2012 Funding

$13,000

Point of Contact

Tania Lewandowski, Tania.Lewandowski@noaa.gov