CSA Ocean Sciences Inc. (CSA), an international marine environmental consulting and survey company, today released details of an important marine environmental study to evaluate coral and coral-related habitats (sites) considered to be Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) in the northern Gulf of Mexico on behalf of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council).
The objective of the project was to carry out a scientifically robust ecological assessment of target HAPC—areas initially identified by the Council’s Coral Working Group in 2014 but extended following further analysis by the Council’s Coral Advisory Panel and Coral Statistical and Scientific Committee in 2021—and establish a means of prioritizing which sites would benefit from protective intervention measures and ongoing mitigation. This work centered around a site-specific and comparative review of potential risks to mesophotic corals (found in water depths of 30 to 150 m) and deep-water corals (deeper than 150 m) in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, from 9 to 200 nautical miles offshore.
“Corals and coral reefs are far more widely distributed in GOM waters than previously understood, so accurately mapping these habitats and understanding how they impact the broader benthic ecosystem are essential steps in determining the most appropriate sustainability practices or interventions,” said Project Manager Steve Viada. “As well as providing essential insights into the impacts that coral communities have on critical fishery species found at the sites, the research profiled the sensitivity of certain corals to disease and other notable shifts in environmental factors.”
The work was underpinned by a comprehensive literature review of the selected coral sites, including a compilation of the most up-to-date information about deep reef corals, coral diversity, and other benthic habitat attributes found in the GOM; the design and preparation of a systematic framework for general ecological assessment across sites; and the creation of an exclusive geodatabase of project-related spatial data supported by a web-based dashboard designed to help the Council validate key management and mitigation decision making and for general outreach purposes.
The completed assessment, coauthored by CSA Senior Scientists Steve Viada and David Snyder, CSA Director of Library & Information Services Kristen Metzger, and collaborator Dr. Steve Ross, Adjunct Professor at UNC-Wilmington was submitted to the Council in March 2022 and presented to the Council and State and Federal agencies in June 2022.
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