State of Deep‐Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems of the Southeast United States
Thomas F. Hourigan, John Reed, Shirley Pomponi, Steve W. Ross, Andrew W. David, and Stacey Harter
Hourigan TF, Reed J, Pomponi S, Ross S, David A, Harter S. 2017. State of deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems of the Southeast United States. Chapter 13. In: Hourigan T, Etnoyer P, Cairns S, editors. The State of Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems of the United States NOAA Memorandum. Silver Spring, MD. p. 60. Link
The Southeast U.S. region stretches from the Straits of Florida north to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and encompasses the Southeast U.S. Continental Shelf large marine ecosystem (LME; Carolinian ecoregion) and associated deeper waters of the Blake Plateau, as well as a small portion of the Caribbean LME off the Florida Keys (eastern portion of the Floridian ecoregion). Within U.S. waters, deep‐sea stony coral reefs reach their greatest abundance and development in this region (Ross and Nizinski 2007). This warm temperate region is strongly influenced by the northern‐flowing Gulf Stream.
Along with the Gulf of Mexico, this region has been the focus of some of the most extensive U.S. deep‐sea coral research, yet many of the region’s deeper waters remain poorly explored. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) has authority over most fisheries in Federal waters in this region, which includes the waters off North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and the Atlantic coast of Florida, including the Florida Keys. In 1984 the SAFMC recommended, and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) established, the Oculina Bank Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) —the world’s first marine protected area specifically designed to protect deep‐sea corals. Over the last decade, NOAA and the Council have built on these initial steps to craft a truly comprehensive approach to conserving vulnerable deep‐sea coral habitats by expanding the Oculina Bank HAPC and establishing five additional deepwater Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (C‐HAPCs) on the southeastern U.S. continental margin covering 59,560 km2