Alaska’s once-secret coral gardens getting a closer look and, potentially, new protections

A large primnoid coral loaded with brittle stars, a marine relative of sea stars. The underwater image was captured on the Dickins Seamount during a 2004 research cruise in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Scientists are on the water this summer gathering information about a once-mysterious habitat – the large and varied gardens of colorful corals that cover parts of the Alaska seafloor. What they learn could prompt new restrictions for commercial seafood harvests.

Though often associated with tropical locations, corals and associated sponges are also important features of the Alaska marine ecosystem. Some Alaska marine sites are believed to hold the world’s most diverse and abundant deep-sea coral and sponge communities, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And like their tropical counterparts, the Alaska corals are vulnerable to disturbances – from bottom-scraping trawl nets, climate change and ocean acidification.

A summer NOAA research cruise that uses remotely operated vehicles and underwater cameras is underway in the Gulf of Alaska. It follows a separate but complementary research cruise by the environmental organization Oceana that surveyed corals in the waters around Kodiak Island. In addition to identifying locations of corals, both teams are studying the risks they face from fishing disturbances, climate change and acidification.

“The overarching goal is to conserve and protect unique habitats,” project lead Christina Conrath of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, said in a statement. “The first step is learning where important habitats are and how important they are to supporting fish and the ecosystem. That’s what we’re doing now.”

“People are still always amazed that there are large colorful corals existing here in Alaska in these deep cold waters,” said Oceana scientist Jon Warrenchuk, who led his organization’s expedition.

Knowledge about Alaska’s corals – and their vulnerabilities – is relatively new. Until the early 2000s, most knowledge came from pieces of coral caught in those nets. Surveys by special underwater vehicles began to present a fuller picture starting in 2002.

Yereth Rosen, Alaska Beacon, 28 June 2022. Full article.

  • Reset


OA-ICC Highlights

%d bloggers like this: