Observations of Deep Coral and Sponge Assemblages in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington

Cruise Report: NOAA Ship McArthur II Cruise AR06-07/07

M.S. Brancato1, C.E. Bowlby1, J. Hyland2, S.S. Intelmann1, and K. Brenkman1
1Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
2National Centers for Coastal Ocean

Observations of Deep Coral and Sponge Assemblages in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington (pdf, 3.1 MB)
From May 22 to June 4, 2006, NOAA scientists led a research cruise using the ROPOS Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to conduct a series of dives at targeted sites in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) with the goal of documenting deep coral and sponge communities. Dive sites were selected from areas for which OCNMS had side scan sonar data indicating the presence of hard or complex substrate. The team completed 11 dives in sanctuary waters ranging from six to 52 hours in length, at depths ranging from 100 to 650 meters. Transect surveys were completed at 15 pre-selected sites, with additional observations made at five other sites. The survey locations included sites both inside and outside the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) Conservation Area, known as Olympic 2, established by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, enacted on June 12, 2006. Bottom trawling is prohibited in the Olympic 2 Conservation Area for non-tribal fishermen.

The Conservation Area covers 159.4 square nautical miles or about 15 percent of the sanctuary. Several species of corals and sponges were documented at 14 of the 15 sites surveyed, at sites both inside and outside the Conservation Area, including numerous gorgonians and the stony corals Lophelia pertusa and Desmophyllum dianthus, as well as small patches of the reef building sponge Farrea occa. The team also documented Lophelia sp. and Desmophyllum sp. coral rubble, dead gorgonians, lost fishing gear, and other anthropogenic debris, supporting concerns over potential risks of environmental disturbances to coral health.

Keywords: Deep coral and sponges, marine sanctuary, ROV, rockfish, side scan sonar, Lophelia, gorgonians, coral distribution, EFH, Olympic 2 Conservation Area, seafloor disturbance.

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