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

Timothy M. Shank Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Abstract

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 deep-sea coral “hotspots” predicted by the existing model/maps of these areas. For this model groundtruthing, our characterization will likely target Heel Tapper, Dogbody and Welker Canyons as these "minor" canyons may have compositional connections to the New England seamounts. 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) support the NE Regional Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Initiative; 2) provide guidance to the NEFMC and MAFMC to designate deep-sea coral management alternatives in the northeast and mid-Atlantic; and 3) support the northeast’s Habitat Blueprint regional initiative.