Spatial distribution of stony coral Lophelia pertusa in the South East Atlantic region of the US

Paola Santiago, United States, Kasey Lynn Cantwell, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Silver Spring, United States and Mashkoor Malik, NOAA, Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Silver Spring, MD, United States
The deep sea stony coral, Lophelia pertusa, is a critical habitat building coral species with known presence in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Although detailed extents of these coral mounds still lacks mapping data for definite boundaries; recently, a large number of mounds were revealed in high resolution mapping on the Blake Plateau by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. The mounds are distributed in an elongated patch of approximately 400 km length (North to South) and 60-100 km width (East to West) in water depths ~800m. Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) investigations by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer confirmed that these mounds are formed by large aggregations of Lophelia pertusa and sediment. The video observations confirm that these coral mounds are composed of both live and dead L. pertusa, and provide habitat to several species including shrimp and fish along other invertebrates. Based on previous studies, the driving oceanographic phenomenon in this region is the Gulf Stream and hypothesized to control the near-bottom oceanographic conditions, and by extension the spatial distribution of this habitat. These observations are supported by reported presence of coral mounds in similar depths in areas with warm water surface currents including offshore Norwegian and North West Atlantic waters. This study will serve to improve our understanding of the L. pertusa distribution in the SouthEast region within the observed environmental factors and Gulf Stream role, providing insight to future research towards the life history and origin of these coral mounds.