The majority of known coral species exist in the dark, cold waters of the deep sea. These corals, referred to as ‘deep-sea’ or ‘cold-water’ corals, form complex structures that provide shelter and food for vast numbers of fish and invertebrate species. Deep reefs take tens of thousands of years to grow, and many deep-sea corals can live for centuries. The longevity and slow growth rate of deep-sea corals make them extremely slow to recover from disturbance.
The advent of technology capable of exploring these remote deep-sea ecosystems has also exposed the substantial damages already being incurred by human activity. Deep-sea coral ecosystems are extremely fragile, and therefore highly vulnerable to physical damage from bottom trawling fisheries. Deep reefs are often targeted for bottom trawling because they house a large number of commercially fished species. Like other marine organisms, deep-sea corals are also sensitive to pollution, sedimentation and the effects of climate change. Restoring deep-sea environments after damage has occurred is often prohibitively expensive or impossible with modern technology, making preemptive conservation activities critical for preserving these vulnerable and ecologically vital habitats.
Marine Conservation Institute is committed to protecting deep-sea coral ecosystems through a combination of rigorous science and advocacy. Through our ongoing projects, we are working to ensure that destructive fishing practices are stopped and that these vulnerable habitats are protected from future human disturbances. Staff scientists collaborate with academic institutions in order to generate predictive models for deep-sea coral habitats, advocate for the creation of new deep-sea marine protected areas, and support efforts to identify deep-sea habitats as vulnerable marine ecosystems.