Coral Reef NOAA
August 04, 2015  

Improving Data on Deep-Sea Corals

Enhancing NOAA’s West Coast Regional Deep-Sea Coral Database

A project recently funded by NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program will enhance the usefulness and accessibility of deep-sea coral data collected by NOAA Fisheries and its partners and help inform the upcoming review of groundfish Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) by NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Curt Whitmire, at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center , recently completed a project to enhance the Center’s existing database of coral observations off the west coast of the Unites States. This database was originally developed during the drafting of the West Coast chapter of NOAA’s "The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems of the United States: 2007" report. Database enhancements included references to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) serial numbers to ensure proper taxonomic associations, improved tracking of samples sent for genetic analysis or morphological identification, and common query structures to facilitate faster responses to data requests. In addition, results of common queries will soon be available via a regional data portal, the Pacific Coast Ocean Observing System (PaCOOS) West Coast Habitat Server.

Map from the PaCOOS Marine Habitat Viewer
Map from the PaCOOS Marine Habitat Viewer, showing coral observations (colored circles) from NMFS bottom trawl surveys conducted between 1980 and 2007 off the coast of Washington and in relation to five groundfish EFH conservation areas (red polygons) implemented in June 2006. Photo Credit: NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State University's Active Tectonics & Seafloor Mapping Lab

In general, deliverables of this project include published data on the presence of corals occurring as catch in fishery-independent trawl surveys and as bycatch recorded by fishery observers to help inform Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA management efforts. The database will serve as a core west coast component of NOAA’s planned National Deep-Sea Coral Geodatabase.

Specifically, the improved data will be used during the upcoming Pacific Fishery Management Council‘s review of groundfish EFH. NOAA Fisheries works with the regional fishery management councils to identify the essential habitat for every life stage of each federally managed species using the best available scientific information. A complete review of all EFH information should be conducted at least once every five years. During the last Pacific groundfish EFH review in 2006, biogenic habitats and risks to those habitats were an important factor in both the identification of Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPCs) and the development of closure areas. Since deep sea corals (and sponges) are important components of biogenic habitats in the region, these updated data deliverables will also play an important role in this current review.

In addition to the management applications listed above, development of these data products will have significant impacts on research in the region. As one example, the information listed above is being used by the Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program, in partnership with the Marine Conservation Institute to model west coast coral habitat suitability. It is anticipated that this modeling effort will identify potential coral habitats not previously known. These areas will likely be the focus of future research and maybe even future management measures.