Coral reefs are spectacular, diverse ecosystems that are home to thousands of different species. While less well-known than tropical coral reefs, the majority of coral species actually grow in the dark, cold waters of the deep sea.
These corals, referred to as ‘deep-sea’ or ‘cold-water’ corals, from complex skeletal structures that provide shelter for vast numbers of associated fish and invertebrates in the otherwise sparsely populated deep sea. Deep-sea coral reefs can take tens of thousands of years to grow, and many deep-sea corals can live for centuries. The longevity and slow growth rate of these corals make these vital habitats extremely slow to recover from disturbance.
Despite their remoteness, deep-sea corals are already incurring significant damage from human activities. For example, bottom trawl fisheries often target deep reefs because they are the preferred habitat for a large number of commercially valuable species. Deep-sea corals’ skeletons are fragile and therefore highly vulnerable to physical damage from bottom trawl fishing gear. Like many other marine organisms, deep-sea corals are also sensitive to pollution, sedimentation, and the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, restoring damaged deep-sea environments is not feasible, making preemptive conservation activities critical for preserving these vulnerable and ecologically vital habitats. If destroyed, most deep-sea coral habitats will not recover within our lifetime.
Marine Conservation Institute is committed to protecting deep-sea coral ecosystems around the world. We conduct field research and modeling analyses to provide a scientific rationale for the improved protection of deep-sea coral habitats. In addition, we advocate for the end or mitigation of destructive fishing practices, climate change, and other human disturbances to these fragile ecosystems.