South Atlantic Deep-Sea Coral HAPC

Background Information

Deep-sea coral ecosystems are extremely productive areas, acting as hotspots for biodiversity and providing habitat for various fish and invertebrate species. Like their shallow-water counterparts, however, they are also affected by human activities. Therefore, the need and concern for management has increased in recent years. The South Atlantic may have the most extensive deep-coral areas in the US; however, these large regions remain poorly explored due to the difficulties in studying areas that are so deep, rugged, and in extreme currents. In 2010, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) designated five areas as deep coral Habitat Area of Particular Concerns (cHAPCs) covering roughly 60,000 km2 between North Carolina and the Florida Keys.  The primary impact to deep coral ecosystems is interaction with bottom-tending fishing gear. Within the cHAPC, the SAFMC established several allowable fishing areas for golden crab, royal red shrimp and wreckfish, which constitute the primary fisheries. Data from this project will be a primary contributor to the Trans Atlantic Coral Ecosystem Study (TRACES). TRACES is an international deep coral initiative with three primary goals: conservation of Atlantic deep coral ecosystems; determining connectivity of deep coral ecosystems across the Atlantic Ocean; and establishing shared and standardized research methodologies and products among regions.

South Atlantic Deep-Sea Coral HAPC
Proposed Deepwater Coral HAPCs


  • Mapping and characterization of deep-sea corals: locate deep coral ecosystems through bathymetric and acoustic backscatter mapping. The SAFMC will utilize these maps to locate areas of high coral abundance warranting protection and to refine the boundaries of the allowable fishing areas within the HAPC.
  • Ecological research on the relationship between habitats & managed fisheries species using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and/or a manned submersible. Data and samples from these gear types will provide extensive information on:
    • fauna which constitute deep-sea coral ecosystems
    • how these species utilize the corals and other habitat types
    • genetic and isotopic work, which can offer information on the connectivity of shallow and deep ecosystems and trophodynamics
  • Biological research on corals: growth and reproduction studies on coral collections.


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