Habitat Suitability Modeling for Deep-Sea Corals and Sponges in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions - Version 2, and Ground-truthing of Potential Deep-sea Coral Areas.

Habitat suitability modeling for deep-sea corals is a valuable, relatively low cost method to identify potential locations of deep-sea corals and their habitats using presence data only. Associations between deep-sea coral occurrences and pertinent environmental parameters are assessed and subsequent habitat suitability maps are then created using various methods. We propose to produce a Version 2 of our present northeast/mid-Atlantic deep-sea coral predictive habitat model with resultant habitat suitability maps and to utilize WHOI’s TowCam system during a future research cruise to ground-truth some deep-sea coral “hotspots” predicted by the model/maps. Version 2 will be more advanced and useful because finer-scale bathymetry data will be included, additional regional deep-sea coral presence records will be added, and more physical, chemical, and biological oceanographic predictor variables that may play significant roles in deep-sea coral life histories and distributions will be included. The enhanced model and habitat suitability maps in addition to new records and ground-truthed coral/sponge occurrence data obtained from towed camera surveys will be used to: 1.) guide the NEFSC’s upcoming FY13 three-year fieldwork research planning; 2.) help draft the NEFMC management alternatives to designate deep-sea coral zones in the northeast and mid-Atlantic; and, 3.) support the northeast’s Habitat Blueprint initiative. In addition, the new deep-sea coral/sponge data obtained from the TowCam surveys will be integrated into the existing northeast CoWCoG deep-sea coral/sponge database.