Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems of the United States


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Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems of the United States

Coral reefs are among the most spectacular ecosystems on the planet, supporting such rich biodiversity and high density of marine life that they have been referred to as the rainforests of the sea. The coral reefs that most people think of are found in warm shallow waters, generally within recreational diving depths (30 m or less). However, other coral ecosystems thrive on continental shelves, slopes, canyons, ocean ridges, and seamounts around the world, sometimes thousands of meters below the ocean’s surface. These communities are structured by deep-sea corals, also referred to as cold-water corals, and are distributed across a wide range of depths and latitudes, in both temperate and tropical oceans.

Research over the last decade has revolutionized our understanding of these deep-sea coral ecosystems and spurred calls for their protection. In 2006, the U.S. Congress included provisions for research and conservation of deep-sea corals in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, our Nation’s primary fisheries law, and the United Nations General Assembly passed major resolutions designed to help protect deep-sea corals and other vulnerable marine ecosystems on the high seas. In 2007, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems of the United States  (Lumsden et al., 2007), the first major peer-reviewed assessment of deep-sea coral ecosystems in U.S. waters and the source for this chapter.

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