Coral Reef Ecosystems
Deep-Sea Coral

Although you might think of corals and only imagine a shallow tropical reef, technology has revealed coral gardens in the dark ocean depths. Hundreds and thousands of feet beyond the reach of sunlight, these unique coral ecosystems are found off all our coasts, inhabiting the deep-sea.

Coral reef

Deep-Sea Coral Habitat

While the conditions are extreme, the deep-sea is home to an abundant variety of life. Deep-sea corals, like their warm-water cousins, are actually colonies of small animals that build a common skeleton, which grows into many shapes and colors.

Deep-sea coral reef

Shedding Light: Saving Deep-Sea Coral Communities

In the darkest depths of the ocean, they take their time. Without sunlight, their community grows, some species not even discovered by humans yet.


Explore Deep-Sea Coral Communities off the West Coast in Real Time without Going to Sea

The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has partnered with Ocean Exploration Trust remotely aboard Exploration Vessel Nautilus to seek out new discoveries on little known regions of the deep sea along the North American West Coast.

Coral reef

Deep-Sea Coral Communities Curriculum

Deep-sea coral communities, like the ones found in the national marine sanctuaries of the West Coast, are home to many diverse species. This curriculum takes students into the deep sea to identify the soft corals, hard corals, invertebrates and fish found in these communities and to investigate the unique biology of deep-sea corals. Learn the threats these animals face and what we can do to help protect them.

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Deep Sea Science in the Classroom: Exploring Coral Communities of the West Coast National Marine Sanctuaries

Take your students on an incredible journey hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the ocean, without ever leaving the classroom! Using research footage from Remotely Operated Vehicles, your students will be able to utilize real scientific methods to explore the unique deep sea coral communities found in our West Coast National Marine Sanctuaries.

Deep coral poster

Deep-Sea Corals Interactive Poster

Enjoy this interactive poster that features both species that live in the deep-sea reef ecosystems and some of the coral species that can thrive in the deep-sea.

Poster identification poster with coral reef animals

Deep-Sea Corals Interactive Poster Identification Guide

This poster identification guide goes along with the Deep-Sea Corals Interactive Poster to allow you to understand the species in the poster.

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Deep-Sea Coral Communities Video

Explore the diverse deep-sea coral communities within the West Coast National Marine Sanctuaries.

Coral reef with fishes

Deep Reefs of Papahānaumokuākea

Scientists have surveyed the deep reefs of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. What they found was amazing: a high abundance of species found only in the Hawaiian Islands and specimens and photographs of potential new species of fish, algae, and invertebrates! #‎EarthIsBlue‬

Deep sea guide of species

Deep-Sea Species Identification Guide

Use this identification guide to identify some of the species that are present in deep-sea ecosystems.

Looking towards the sea from the edge of a ship

Exploring the Deep Coral Gardens of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Located off the coast of Southern California, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary protects remarkable biodiversity, productive ecosystems, and sensitive species and habitats. But more than a quarter of this ocean treasure remains unmapped and little-explored.

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Revealing the Mysterious Coral and Sponge Gardens of Sur Ridge in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Countless mysteries exist in the depths of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), including Sur Ridge – a deep-sea rocky outcrop off the coast of Big Sur that is roughly the size of Manhattan.

Plant in mesophotic habitat

Mesophotic Habitats

The term mesophotic comes from the Greek words for "middle" and "light," and refers to the fact that this zone doesn't have as much light as waters near the surface of the ocean, but it's also not completely dark. This is evidenced by the presence of some light-dependent organisms such as stony (reef-building) corals and algae.

Map of reefs and banks in gulf of mexico

Northwestern Gulf Banks

The region in which Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary resides is the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. The sanctuary consists of 17 banks scattered along the continental shelf off of Texas and Louisiana, but these are not the only banks in this region. Additional banks extend both east and west of the sanctuary, and several more can be found within the same range as the sanctuary's banks.