Characterizing Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems in Northeast United States Canyons: Image analysis of Coral Habitats and Geo-Referenced Locations for Inclusion in the National Deep-Sea Coral (DSCRTP) database

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. Understanding the location and diversity of deep-sea coral ecosystems in canyons along the U.S. east coast is essential to understating the fate of this productivity in fisheries systems and their management. Using recently collected fine-scale bathymetry data and previously collected seafloor images containing deep-sea corals, we propose to characterize morpho-species specific deep-sea coral habitats and geo-reference their geographic location and depth in seven virtually unexplored northwest Atlantic canyons. We will utilize previously collected images (e.g., August 2014) from WHOI’s TowCam system to complete the tabulation of coral locations, their habitat substrate, depth and geo-referenced seafloor location in Washington, Accomac, Leonard, Wilmington, Spencer, Lindenkohl, and Carteret canyons. We envision this preparation of data will not only 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; but 3) provide this new geo-referenced coral presence and habitat data as ready for integration into the existing national Deep-Sea Coral database (DSCRTP). The available data will be provided for a NOAA presentation of the State of Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems and NOAA's Coral Database at the International Symposium on Deep-Sea Corals in September 2016.