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2010 Deep Sea Coral Cruise - east coast
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From 8-14 April, the NOAA Ship Pisces will explore deep-sea coral habitats in depths from 200-600 m (650 – 2000 ft.), on the continental slope east of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.  Sampling will occur with remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) and grab sampler, and fish distribution and abundance will be mapped with a “fisheries acoustic system”.   All of this work will occur along a corridor of some historical research, extending from the coast of Georgia eastward to depths of 1000 m (3300 ft.), called the “Latitude 31-30 Transect”. 

Sonar image of the bottom at 2400 ft. on the Blake Plateau east of Savannah, GA, showing rough bottom and coral mounds.  (Photo by George Sedberry)
Sonar image of the bottom at 2400 ft. on the Blake Plateau east of Savannah, GA, showing rough bottom and coral mounds. (Photo by George Sedberry)
The continental slope off Georgia is interrupted by a relatively flat feature called the Blake Plateau.  Although the slope is relatively flat, the Blake Plateau includes several high-relief scarps and cliffs, with steep slopes and rugged rocky bottom.  This rugged hard bottom supports colonies of hard corals, and flat hard areas support extensive build-ups of living and dead coral referred to as coral mounds.  The rugged bottom topography and the coral mounds are attractive features for deep-sea reef fish like wreckfish and blackbelly rosefish,  In addition, large barrelfish and red bream shelter in the rugged bottom and coral mounds, and are thought to forage up in the water column at night.  Wreckfish support an important and well-managed fishery off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, and small amounts of barrelfish, red bream, blackbelly rosefish and other species are incidentally caught and landed in the wreckfish and other deepwater fisheries.

In addition to the fishery directed at wreckfish, there is a trap fishery for golden crab and a trawl fishery for royal red shrimp on the continental slope off the southeastern U.S.  These fishing gears have to potential to damage the fragile coral habitat where fish, crabs, shrimp and other animals live.  In order to better manage the fisheries and their habitat for sustainable catches, we need to know more about where the corals are found and how the animals that we harvest are associated with those corals.  The results of our research cruise, combined with similar historical and future efforts, will result in mapping of high density coral areas and allowable fishing zones that minimize impacts on the habitat in which the fish live. 


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