Quantitative analysis of deep-sea coral habitat structure: east coast of Florida

Grant Winners

  • Charles G. Messing, Ph.D. – Oceanographic Center
  • Joshua S. Feingold, Ph.D. – Oceanographic Center and Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences

Deans

  • Richard Dodge – Oceanographic Center
  • Donald Rosenblum – Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

Award Winners

Coral reefs abound in shallow tropical waters around the world's oceans, and their deterioration over recent decades due to a wide range of environmental insults has been well documented. However, coral reefs also exist in the deep sea to depths of over a mile; they are far more widespread than shallow-water reefs, also support a great but largely unexplored diversity of associated organisms, and are also threatened by environmental degradation. Such deep-sea coral reefs occur along much of the Florida continental margin, where recent preliminary investigations have revealed that they support potentially important commercial fish populations as well as organisms (e.g., sponges and soft corals) being examined as possible sources of novel biopharmaceutical compounds. In November 2005, a NOAA-sponsored expedition (in which CGM participated) made 14 submersible dives to 11 of these reefs and returned far more data than anticipated. In particular, the extensive video transects of different deep reef habitats remain un-analyzed. Because understanding patterns of organism distributions is critical to developing plans for the conservation and protection of these habitats, we propose to quantitatively analyze this video dataset to document the distribution and abundances of deep-reef organisms relative to environmental characteristics including substrate, topography, temperature and depth. Analytical methods will follow protocols used successfully by us to study similar habitats. We expect to produce at least one peer-reviewed scientific journal article, one conference presentation and one conference poster. Results will be incorporated into proposals planned for agency submission. The collaborative component consists of training undergraduate students (FCAS) to carry out analyses under faculty supervision, with input from external deep-sea coral specialists.