Investigation of Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Habitats in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Canyons:Integrative Imaging and Mapping of Canyon Environments and Ecosystem

Submarine canyons can contain the most productive non-chemosynthetic habitats described in the deep
sea and may enhance local and regional species diversity, including those vulnerable to anthropogenic
activities. Using recently collected fine-scale bathymetry data and regional deep-sea coral presence
records, we propose to locate, document, and characterize deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems in
virtually unexplored northeast and mid-Atlantic canyons. We will utilize WHOI’s TowCam system to
ground-truth some deep-sea coral “hotspots” predicted by the existing model/maps. The future
development of coral-habitat predictive models and habitat suitability maps depends on new records and
ground-truthed coral/sponge occurrence data obtained from towed camera surveys. Data collected will be
used to: 1) guide the NEFSC’s deep-sea coral three-year fieldwork research planning (FY13-15); 2)
provide guidance to the NEFMC to designate deep-sea coral management alternatives in the northeast and
mid-Atlantic; and 3) support the northeast’s Habitat Blueprint regional 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 as well as guide critical sampling of whole specimens
and tissue collections for future taxonomic and genetic (phylogenetic and population genetic) analysis.