Corals, rockfish and sponges found at unprecedented depths
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — The foggy wave-torn coast of northern California may not seem like a haven for coral at first glance, but NOAA researchers say they’ve recently discovered a treasure trove of new deep sea habitats in the Gulf of Farallones Sanctuary, not far from San Francisco.
The area is a melting pot for deep sea corals, sponges, rockfish, and other species.
A partnership of federal and independent scientists found the rocky reef habitats in October in an area at depths of up to 457 meters, where such corals and sponges had not been seen before.
Preliminary findings from a recently completed series of research cruises featuring scientists from the sanctuary, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the U.S. Geological Survey, California Academy of Sciences, and Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) include the discovery of many species of sponges and corals including a large black coral on a previously unstudied rocky seafloor bank 40 miles offshore, near the Farallon Islands.
The expeditions explored and photographed the Farallon Escarpment, which is the continental slope within Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and two rocky-reef sites: Rittenburg Bank and a previously uncharted seafloor feature, nicknamed Cochrane Bank by the science team.
At least 20 species of sponges and corals were observed during the research cruise. A black coral colony on Cochrane Bank, estimated to be at least 100 years old, was the first such sighting within the sanctuary. Scientists believe the coral may be a species recently discovered in southern California.
Working aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Fulmar, the scientific team deployed a remotely operated vehicle owned and operated by MARE to observe, photograph and sample deep-sea corals, sponges, and associated marine life between 76 meters and 457 meters deep.
The expedition is part of a coordinated three-year research effort under NOAA’s Deep-sea Coral Research and Technology Program to better understand the location, distribution, status and health of deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems along the West Coast in order to inform conservation and management actions.
Potential threats to the health of deep-sea sponge and coral include human-induced disturbances such as oil spills, fishing activities, natural physical disturbance, climate change and ocean acidification.