Corals of the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts
In the northeast United States, there are at least 25 different species of both hard and soft deep-sea corals. These coral are long-lived and fragile, making them vulnerable to destructive fishing practices.
Although little is known about even the most abundant deep-sea coral in New England, it is clear they are important animals in the deep-sea ecosystem; providing shelter, food and spawning grounds.
Corals in the Northeast have also been researched as important indicators of climate change. Coral skeletons are marked by striations that accumulate over time like tree rings and record variations in ocean conditions. Bamboo corals may provide a model for artificial synthesis of collagen and have been used to synthesize human bone analogs for grafting. Coral-based implants have many properties similar to bone and can be absorbed more quickly than bioceramics.
In the southeast U.S., deep-sea corals create oases of special habitat along the coast and are extremely vulnerable to certain kinds of fishing such as bottom trawling and dredging.
Both corals and fisheries, from Florida’s East Coast up to North Carolina, are managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. In 2004, the Council responded to the convincing data provided by scientists and identified areas of coral that would be closed to bottom trawling and any other activity that disturbs the seafloor. The boundaries were updated in spring of 2006 to reflect recent research.
Victory Update: In 2010, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council designated five areas, encompassing more than 23,000 square miles, as Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern. Oceana advocated for complete protections from destructive bottom trawling practices in these areas, which include some of the last remaining acres in which ivory tree coral (Oculina varicose) are found.
Gulf of Mexico Corals
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is in the process of identifying and conserving deep sea coral areas. Oceana has advocated for comprehensive protection of these areas and looks forward to final action in 2019.