NOAA's Interest and Mandates Relevant to Deep Sea Corals

Deep Sea Coral Ecosystems (DSCE) are important to NOAA because they…

  • Provide habitat for fish and other marine life—oases of biodiversity in the deep sea and shelter, feeding, breeding and nursery grounds for commercially valuable species.
  • Are reservoirs for new natural products with medical and industrial applications
  • Are managed/protected ecosystems threatened by fisheries and global climate change including changes in temperature and ocean acidity
  • Provide important clues into past climate and ocean environment changes by recording temperature and chemical data their skeletons; like terrestrial trees, deep-sea corals add annual rings. While they are slow growing, some specimens have been estimated to be more than 4,000 years old.

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP):

The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) is a partnership between the NOAA Line Offices that work on coral issues, including:

  • National Ocean Service
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research
  • National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program coordinates deep-sea coral activities across offices and programs within NOAA for a multidisciplinary approach to manage and understand deep-sea coral ecosystems. NOAA works with the Regional Fishery Management Councils, other federal and state agencies, tribal governments and resource protection managers, academia and other partners to enhance protection of these ecosystems. In 2009, NOAA received $1.5 million to advance the implementation of the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program.

Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program Science Plan:

In 2010, NOAA released a Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems: Research, Management, and International Cooperation. The plan represents a concerted effort to identify exploration, research, management, and international activities that provide the information needed to implement appropriate management measures to protect and conserve deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems for fiscal years 2010-2019.

The initial three-year (2009-2011) field research effort focused on the Southeastern U.S., due largely to the discovery of extensive deep coral habitats in recent years and the designation of the Deep Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern. Field efforts in 2009 and 2010 were directed to new research, mapping, and characterization. In addition to field activities, the program is:

  • Working at a national level to integrate existing research on deep-sea corals;
  • Conducting workshops to further identify exploration and research needs and to identify deep-sea coral data and information management needs;
  • Analyzing the distribution and intensity of fishing practices that may impact these corals; and
  • Improving the reporting and analysis of by-catch of deep-sea corals caught during fishing activities.

Why is NOAA responsible for studying deep-sea corals?

NOAA has research expertise and statutory authority to protect and manage deep-sea coral communities in U.S. waters under the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) of 2006 and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. The MSA mandates that NOAA manage deep-sea coral in Federal waters through application of Fishery Management Plans developed in conjunction with the Regional Fishery Management Councils. Other rationale include:

  • President's Ocean Action Plan directs agencies to "research, survey and protect deep-sea coral communities."
  • NOAA's undersea research capabilities, in cooperation with academic, federal, and international partners, have put NOAA at the forefront of deep-sea coral research and technology. Recent research has begun to reveal the extent and ecological importance of deep-sea coral communities and the threats they face, thereby catalyzing conservation actions.
  • NOAA is the principal Federal agency responsible for management of living marine resources within the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where most US deep-sea coral communities occur.