Field Initiative Title: Mapping and Research of the Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems of the Southeast U.S.

Through a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach, this project intends to survey the newly designated Deep-Sea Coral Habitat Area of Particular Concern with ROVs and submersibles, map a significant portion of the CHAPC suspected of containing deep corals, and produce a model to predict the location of deep corals in the entire CHAPC based upon existing and new multibeam bathymetry as well as empirical data derived from sponsored research cruises.

The primary client for this project is the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.  The Council has designated a very large CHAPC encompassing nearly all known DSC habitat in its region of responsibility.  It is anticipated this project will inform the Council of the location of deep-sea coral and associated vertebrate and invertebrate fauna in and adjacent to the CHAPC.  Several open to fishing areas will be evaluated for potential boundary adjustment if significant coral resources are discovered in these fishing corridors.  The SAFMC will be informed of project accomplishments through regular reporting in synoptic cruise reports, detailed analyses in SEADESC reports, transfer of multibeam bathymetric data through direct submission and links to NGDC databases, requested presentations at SAFMC and committee meetings and a final report.  Knowledge of the location and extent of deep coral resources will allow the SAFMC to modify protected area boundaries (if needed), adjust fishing regulations for bottom impinging gear, and work with stakeholders to balance resource use with habitat preservation.

Seven research cruises used multibeam sonar to map over 10,000 km2 of habitat along the outer continental shelf and slope between South Carolina and southern Florida, and conducted 22 submersible and 36 ROV dives.  These surveys discovered the region’s shallowest Lophelia pertusa, bioherms and documented 75 unprotected and previously unknown mounds of the reef-forming Oculina varicosa.    The majority of videos, photos, and over 1,000 biological samples collected over these three years have been analyzed although some are still being processed. Ongoing analyses by NOAA and its partners include quantifying the abundance of fishes and invertebrates living in deep-sea coral communities, identifying the species encountered, estimating coral ages and growth rates, and using genetic markers to understand coral population structure. Several range extensions for fishes and invertebrates have been identified and several possible new crustacean species were collected.  The multibeam maps and groundtruthing video helped to parameterize a new predictive coral habitat map.  The SAFMC is expected to extend the boundaries of the CHAPC to include the Oculina mounds discovered during this project and to move the western boundary of the CHAPC further west to incorporate areas of Lophelia found in shallower waters than were known before discoveries made during this project.

Fiscal Funding:
  • FY 2009 @ $1,000,000
  • FY 2010 @ $790,000
  • FY 2011 @ $790,000
  • FY 2012 @ $65,000
Total Funding:


  • South Atlantic Council
  •  None Defined.
Point of Contact: Office of the Point of Contact:
Participating Offices:
Field Initiative Title: Mapping and Research of the Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems of the Southeast U.S.
Internal References:
  •  None Defined