Research over the last decade has revealed a little known undersea world of deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico. They are found on the Continental shelf at depths from 165 feet down to 660 feet and even deeper on the continental slope from 1,200 feet and deeper.
Rarely seen until recently, these fragile coral reefs flourish in a dark, seemingly inhospitable environment where they provide shelter and breeding habitat for a mix of unique marine life including catsharks, eels, fish, crustaceans, sponges and anemones.
Now, through NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer Program using the remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer these deep-sea coral reefs have been brought to light. The reefs have been found scattered throughout the Gulf at a depth of 750 feet off the Florida Keys, westward along the coast of Louisiana and the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. (photo – NOAA)
Deep-Sea Corals: A New Frontier of Ocean Exploration!
Deep-sea corals may offer unrealized benefits!
Great value may potentially derive from these deep-sea corals like octocorals that possess properties that may be beneficial in cancer treatment or sponges that contain anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Just like the Giant Redwoods, black corals contain growth rings that could provide researchers with clues to past ocean warming and the ocean’s chemistry. (photo – NOAA)
Many of these deep-sea corals can live for thousands of years; are very slow growing and if damaged may never recover.
How to protect these fragile marine environments?
Fishing activities especially bottom trawling that drags large nets across the sea bottom represent the most serious threat. Deep-sea crab traps are another problem. Oil Spills like the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 was a disaster for these corals. (art – eu.oceana.org)
As researchers learn more about the distribution and diversity of the Gulf’s deep-sea coral reefs, the hope is that fishery managers will expand the numbers of protected sites and insure the continued existence of these treasures of the deep.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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