The NOAA Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program conducted its first field research initiative in Northeast U.S. waters from 2012 through 2015. The initiative was focused on mapping and surveying the continental slope—including submarine canyons from Canada to Virginia—as well as priority areas in the Gulf of Maine. These efforts provided baseline data on coral and sponge habitats that resulted in historic deep-sea habitat protections in the region. The Program is currently preparing for its second initiative in the Northeast. This initiative will take place from 2023 through 2026 and focus on expanding our baseline understanding of coral and sponge habitats in the region. Between initiative years, smaller Program-funded projects in the region support conservation efforts.
The Northeast region encompasses federal waters from Maine to North Carolina. These waters are under the jurisdictions of the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils. The area is characterized by a wide continental shelf with a steep slope cut with dozens of submarine canyons on its seaward border. The region includes the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, southern New England, and the Mid‐Atlantic Bight—which extends from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, north to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It also includes four New England Seamounts (Bear, Physalia, Mytilus, and Retriever), which are located off the continental shelf near Georges Bank.
Northeast Initiative (2012–2015)
Watch a video highlighting the 2013 Northeast canyons expedition
Initiative partners developed the region’s first deep-sea coral predictive habitat suitability models, and led the visual surveys of 31 canyons that confirmed the presence of coral habitats predicted by the models. During the initiative and beyond, collaborators also partnered with the Canadian government, academia, and nongovernmental organizations to further expand our understanding of the region’s deep-sea coral ecosystems.
In the Gulf of Maine, the New England Fishery Management Council designated Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge as protected zones, and western Jordan Basin as a coral research area. The partnerships established here have since led to new cross-NOAA collaborations in other U.S. regions.
The initiative’s exciting discoveries led to nine follow-up expeditions in the Northeast region over the following five years, which gathered more than 36,000 additional coral and sponge observations.
Major initiative accomplishments include the following:
Using the Magnuson-Stevens Act deep-sea coral discretionary authority for the first time, when the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council created the Frank R. Lautenberg Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area in 2016. informed this decision.
Completing extensive mapping and surveys in 31 submarine canyons, adjacent slope habitats, and select areas in the Gulf of Maine. The highest abundances and diversity of deep-sea corals were generally found in the submarine canyons and seamounts far offshore along the edge of the continental shelf.
Discovering and surveying rich and dense coral gardens, which serve as habitat for Acadian redfish and other commercially important species, in western Jordan Basin, Outer Schoodic Ridge, and near Mount Desert Rock in the Gulf of Maine.
Completing collaborative United States and Canada remotely operated vehicle surveys across international boundaries in 2014, with follow-up cruises in 2017 and 2019.
By leveraging expertise and funding with other partners within and outside of NOAA, the initiative and supporting projects have greatly advanced our understanding of deep-sea corals in the Northeast region.
Many collaborators laid the groundwork by conducting mapping and exploration in the region before or during the initiative. These partnerships include the following:
A series of five expeditions conducted in a cross-office NOAA partnership mapped five underwater canyons along the continental shelf from Virginia to Rhode Island. These collaborations continued in several subsequent surveys.
NOAA and Fisheries and Oceans Canada further explored deep-sea habitats off of Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine across international boundaries through a series of cruises. This work was completed in a post-initiative continued partnership.
Researchers at the University of Maine, University of Connecticut, NOAA scientists completed three years of surveys in the Gulf of Maine, resulting in the discovery of spectacular coral colonies approximately 25 miles off the coast.