Deep-sea coral ecosystems provide essential habitat for many commercial fish species as well as a variety of other organisms, but very few of these areas have been explored or even mapped due to the significant time and expense of studying the deep seafloor. Predicative habitat modeling is a tool that helps scientists better map the areas where these mysterious and spectacular deep-sea ecosystems will likely be found. These maps are then used to inform management and conservation decisions to protect these fragile ecosystems. For example, we can use these models to identify candidate sites for new marine protected areas and work with management agencies to stop damaging fishing practices, such as bottom trawling, in sensitive areas.
We are currently using predictive habitat models with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd to map the distribution of deep-sea corals and other vulnerable deep-sea taxa on seamounts off the coast of New Zealand. These models will provide the baseline data required to support the classification of these areas as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems – fragile and important ecosystems that are protected from bottom trawling fisheries by international agreements. In conjunction with this project, we are also developing predictive habitat models for deep-sea corals and sponges throughout the North Pacific in a large collaborative effort of the North Pacific Marine Science Organization. These models will be used to quantify impacts of fishing on fragile coral and sponge habitats, allowing for the development of a comprehensive management plan.
Marine Conservation Institute will continue to use predictive habitat models to advocate for the protection of deep-sea coral and sponge habitats. Model results are used to brief fishery managers, fishing industry representatives, non-governmental organizations and the US Congress about policy relevant results, and conservation and management measures. We interact closely with NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program to provide the scientific information necessary to effectively manage deep-sea coral ecosystems within US waters. Predictive habitat models also provide critical data and analyses that support Marine Conservation Institute’s High Seas Mapper and Global Ocean Refuge System.