Page 14 - Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program

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14
Regional Highlights
South Atlantic Region
The three-year field study to investigate deep-sea coral ecosystems in the
southeast, as previously described on page
, serves the needs
of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which has authority
over fisheries in federal waters from North Carolina to Key West.
The Council and NOAA have been proactive in protecting deep-sea coral
reefs by establishing five deepwater Coral Habitat Areas of Particular
Concern (C-HAPCs) totaling 24,215 square miles in 2010, where fishing
gears that contact the seafloor are prohibited and coral habitat is protected.
Within the C-HAPCs, there are areas where small-scale traditional fisheries
that use bottom-contact gear to catch golden crab and royal red shrimp
are allowed. As the Council continues to find ways to best conserve coral
habitats while preserving fishing interests, it is looking to the Deep Sea
Coral Research and Technology Program and other NOAA programs and
offices to determine the precise locations and ecological importance of the
coral habitats so the boundaries of the C-HAPCs and allowable fishing
areas can be refined.
To align the program’s three-year study with the Council’s needs, the
program not only involved the Council representatives in the initial
design of the study but also partnered with members of the Council’s
Coral Advisory Panel in five of the program’s seven research cruises.
Furthermore, as the study entered the final analysis phase in late 2011,
NOAA presented the preliminary findings to the advisory panel to keep
the Council informed (Figure 2). Final results are scheduled to be released
in a report in late 2012.
In recognition of the value of the preliminary findings provided by the
program, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council chairman
thanked NOAA for its research in the region over the last three years,
referring to the preliminary results as “instrumental in providing data and
documentation on the distribution and ecological significance of these
resources.” In a letter to NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, the
chairman summarized the areas where the new findings can help with the
Council’s adaptive management to protect deep-sea coral communities.
As much of the South Atlantic region has yet to be explored to determine
the true extent of deep-sea coral ecosystems, the chairman recognized the
large suite of remaining science needs and called for continued research.
Gulf of Mexico Region
In the southeast region, the program also works in the Gulf of Mexico.
The program compiled spatial records of structure-forming deep-sea coral
locations in the Gulf, and has increased the compilation from less than
100 records to over 1,800. The program provided maps of these deep-sea
coral locations to help guide efforts for the response and Natural Resource
Damage Assessment following the Deepwater Horizon MC252 oil spill.
Building on this knowledge of deep-sea coral locations, in 2011 the
program initiated a study to use computer models to predict additional
habitat areas in the Gulf of Mexico that may be suitable for deep-sea corals.