Page 5 - Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program

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D
eep-sea corals form large, complex structures in all U.S. regions,
providing habitats for myriad marine species. The Deep Sea
Coral Research and Technology Program is the nation’s only
federal research program dedicated to increasing scientific understanding
of deep-sea coral ecosystems and is designed to provide ocean resource
managers with scientific studies to inform conservation actions. Begun
in 2009, and funded at $2.5M annually in FY 2010 and 2011, the
program focuses its resources on priority regions and targeted analyses to
maximize its conservation impact while partnering with other programs
and organizations to enhance cost-effectiveness.
In the 2010-2011 reporting period, the program completed a three-year
field study off the southeastern United States. The study revealed deep-sea
coral communities never before seen off the eastern and southern coasts
of Florida. Protecting deep-sea coral habitats like these is important to
the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which has authority for
fisheries in federal waters off North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and
eastern Florida. The Council and its Coral Advisory Panel partnered with
the program in planning and implementing the study, and the program’s
research findings will enable the Council to refine its coral protection
actions while allowing sustainable fisheries to thrive. The program is
currently analyzing the data and biological samples collected from the
research cruises and will present the final results in 2012 to provide the
best available science to the Council in a timely manner.
On the west coast, the program is contributing to the Pacific Fishery
Management Council’s work to review the designation of groundfish
essential fish habitats—areas important to the survival and reproduction
of commercially-caught, seafloor-dwelling fish—and management actions
associated with these habitats.
To support this review, a coordinated suite of studies funded by the program
brought forward newdescriptions of where deep-sea coral communities are,
how fish use them as habitat, and where interactions between fishing gear
and corals could be reduced. As the Council considers ways to safeguard
the habitats crucial to the region’s fisheries, this knowledge is fundamental
to effective conservation. Furthermore, the program’s findings will be used
by multiple National Marine Sanctuaries to refine sanctuary management
actions.
In 2010 and 2011, the program began planning for three-year field studies
in additional regions of the United States. The program’s first research
expedition in Alaska is scheduled to depart in 2012, and a northeast
field study (Maine to Virginia) is slated to begin in 2013. To guide these
regional research efforts, the program reached out to the fishing industry,
the Regional Fishery Management Councils, state agencies, academia, and
conservation groups to identify the key research topics that are important
for making management decisions.
In spite of these recent efforts by the program and more than a decade
of research by other partners, much about deep-sea coral ecosystems in
the United States remains unknown. Even after three successful years of
thoughtfully planned, intensive field research by the program and partners,
most of the area managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management
Council is still unexplored. The South Atlantic Council has taken
conservation action based on the available science and recognizes the need
for further research, and it has encouraged NOAA to continue the deep-
sea coral research. NOAA is committed to producing quality scientific
information to support all Regional Fishery Management Councils and
other ocean management initiatives.
Executive Summary
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