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Characterization of deep-sea coral and sponge communities in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary: Point Arena South Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Area and New Amendment 28 Areas

March 1, 2021

This report summarizes samples collected during a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) cruise conducted in October 2019 on board E/V Nautilus. Areas sampled in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary included areas proposed for fisheries management zoning in the Point Arena South (PAS) Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Area (EFH). Dive planning targeted habitats and biological communities of corals, sponges, and fishes in relation to the new, 2020 configuration of PAS EFH (hereafter referred to as PAS), which includes areas once closed to commercial bottom trawling and now opened to bottom trawling, once opened to bottom trawling and now closed, or that remain closed to commercial bottom trawling. Particular interest was given to enumerating deep-sea corals and sponges (DSCS) in these areas as they are long-lived, slow-growing species that are vulnerable to impacts from bottom trawling. Fish species were also enumerated. These data provide the most recent assessment and characterization for a portion of these areas before the final ruling on Amendment 28 went into effect on January 1, 2020 (50 C.F.R. part 660).

A total of seven sponge specimens were collected on this mission, some of which could potentially be new species, such as the large yellow ‘plate’-shaped sponge and the ‘palm frond’ morphology of the predatory sponge Asbestopluma, documented on both dives. Six coral collections were made, including three types of red Swiftia sp. gorgonians (two had fan-shaped morphology and one had branched morphology) with different polyp colors. A high diversity of fishes, particularly groundfish, were documented across the entire PAS area.

The findings from this cruise will be provided to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to help them identify biologically complex areas of the seafloor that are most sensitive to bottom trawling and aid in the ongoing management of this designated essential fish habitat conservation zone. Habitat data from these surveys will be used to confirm substrate prediction models that can be used to predict DSCS habitats where there is a dearth of visual observations.