Science Center Objects

Deep-sea corals are slow-growing marine organisms that live at water depths greater than light can penetrate. These corals are widely distributed on the outer continental shelves and slopes of U.S. margins and are considered especially vulnerable to damage by activities such as trawling given their slow regeneration time.

Extreme close-up view underwater, of delicate coral polyps that are opened like flowers.

A close-up of the Paramuricea polyps when open. Credit: Art Howard, NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

Leptogorgia chilensis, Stylaster californicus, and a painted greenling (Oxylebius pictus) at 42 meters depth on Farnsworth Bank.

Leptogorgia chilensisStylaster californicus, and a painted greenling (Oxylebius pictus) at 42 meters depth on Farnsworth Bank. Credit: NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Advanced Survey Technologies Group

In coordination with the USGS Ecosystems Mission Area, the CMHRP contributes a wide range of expertise and data to deep-sea coral studies in the United States. To protect fragile corals while also acquiring critical measurements, the CMHRP employs high-resolution sonar imaging techniques to determine the extent of hard seafloor patches where corals may grow and to map seafloor topography and sediment distribution to better understand deep-sea coral habitats. The CMHRP also maintains state-of-the-art instrumentation that measures important ocean properties such as temperature and salinity, and the flow of tiny particles, and shares these data, as well as other crucial information, with partners to enable an integrated approach to understanding deep-sea coral ecosystems and their health. In addition, the CMHRP uses molecular, stable isotope, and trace element techniques to understand the deep-sea ecology and to constrain ages and growth rates of deep-sea corals, fingerprint food sources, and evaluate quality and quantity of these food sources.

The research conducted by the CMHRP and its partners at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state and regional authorities provides the scientific knowledge required for informed decision-making and ecosystem management. For example, scientific discoveries by the CMHRP and its partners played a crucial role in the approval by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to protect deep-sea corals from the impacts of trawling in 100,000 square kilometers (approximately 38,000 square miles) of ocean.