Coral Reef NOAA
April 17, 2014  

Deep-sea Coral Research in Sanctuary

Deep-sea coral and sponge explorations in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

In August of 2011, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) , located off the coast of Washington state, will undertake its 5th expedition to conduct remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys for deep-sea coral (DSC) and sponge communities. 2011 will be year 2 of a 3 year Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program (DSCRTP) supported effort for the west coast, with OCNMS being one of the priority regions. The focus in 2010 and for 2011 has been to survey areas that have been proposed for additional protection as groundfish Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Areas , and if DSC are present, to document their distribution, abundance and associated species, including fish and other invertebrates.

Multiple rockfish species resting on a red tree coral (Primnoa pacifica)
Multiple rockfish species resting on a red tree coral (Primnoa pacifica) in boulder habitat in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary at depth of 260m. Photo Credit: OCNMS 2006

These ROV surveys and those conducted in 2004 , 2006 and 2008 , have required major partnerships in addition to sanctuary staff, which has included scientists from National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Makah and Quileute tribes, Washington State Univ., Oregon State Univ., other academics and NGOs, NOAA Ship McArthur II, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Survey depths have ranged from 100-1,000m. These various expeditions have been financially supported by the Office of Ocean Exploration, National Undersea Research Program, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NCCOS, NMFS, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and most recently by DSCRTP.

Processing of hundreds of hours of video data is ongoing and site characterization reports of DSC distribution and abundance will be provided to Pacific Fishery Management Council’s EFH Review Committee, NMFS, DSCRTP, coastal treaty tribes and other resource managers. Preliminary findings have revealed limited areas of stony coral Lophelia pertusa, patchy distribution of various species of soft corals (e.g., Paragorgia, Swiftia, Primnoa, Plumarella and Callogorgia), hydrocorals and various sponge species. Coral and sponge samples have been distributed to taxonomist and new species of both are being characterized.

Red tree coral. Bubblegum coral
Red tree coral (Primnoa pacifica)(L) and bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea pacifica)(R) with associated rockfish and crinoids in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary at depth of 323m. Photo Credit: OCNMS 2008