Multifaceted Approach to Protecting Deep-Sea Corals in the U.S. South Atlantic

Thomas F. Hourigan, NOAA Fisheries Service, Deep Sea Coral Research & Technology Program, Silver Spring, MD, United States, Chip Collier, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Charleston, SC, United States, Matthew D Poti, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Silver Spring, MD, United States and Heather M Coleman, NOAA Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program, Silver Spring, MD, United States
The United States has been protecting deep-sea corals and sponges from fishing impacts for over 35 years, and new observations have accelerated conservation efforts. Each U.S. regional fishery management council has now protected portions of the deep sea, although impetus for protection, input data, area size, fishing regulations, and mechanisms of protection vary greatly. Working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council pioneered the protection of deep-sea corals in 1983 based on observed and suspected coral bio-herm locations. In these Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (CHAPCs), bottom tending gear such as shrimp trawls and crab pots are prohibited. The council has since expanded the size of the CHAPCs to protect coral in greater than 24,000 square miles based on observations of coral habitats and bathymetric anomalies. The council is now planning to refine existing CHAPC boundaries considering new survey data provided by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration & Research and Deep Sea Coral Research & Technology Program, and updated habitat suitability models provided by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. These updated models incorporate a considerable number of new observations from high resolution visual surveys (e.g. from remotely operated vehicle surveys by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer) and improved bathymetric data from multibeam and 3D seismic surveys. The models use locations of both deep-sea coral and sponge presence and absence to predict the probability of their occurrence. The council will soon be considering these novel occupancy models to develop and refine CHAPCs boundaries to protect these vulnerable and valuable resources in the U.S. South Atlantic region.