Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 2:12 pm | A Few Clouds and Breezy 65º

 
 
 
 
Advice

UCSB Marine Biologists Asserts Importance of Deep-Sea Sponges, Coral

North of the Aleutian Islands, submarine canyons in the cold waters of the eastern Bering Sea contain a highly productive “green belt” that is home to deep-water corals, as well as a plethora of fish and marine mammals.

Situated along the continental slope, the area also supports a thriving — but potentially environmentally damaging — bottom-trawling fishing industry that uses large weighted nets dragged across the sea floor to scoop up everything in their path.

A new study, conducted by research biologist Robert Miller of UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute and colleagues from Greenpeace, combines a variety of data to identify coral and sponge habitats that may be threatened by bottom-trawling.

Further, the investigators also used the results of their habitat models to evaluate how restrictions on bottom-contact fishing in Bering Sea canyons could impact the fishing industry. The results appear in the journal "Global Ecology and Conservation."

“There’s a growing awareness of deep-water corals and their importance as fish habitat, as well as their vulnerability to bottom trawling,” said lead author Miller. “They take a long time — tens to hundreds of years — to recover from being destroyed by bottom trawlers, particularly the big specimens, which can be really old.”

The research model incorporated data from bycatch records, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) surveys and Greenpeace-led submersible expeditions, as well as physical oceanographic data such as temperature, bottom slope and current speed to identify the best locations for coral and sponge habitat in the Bering Sea. They found that Pribilof Canyon — an area larger than the Grand Canyon — contains the area’s densest populations of deep-sea corals and sponges.

One of five major canyons carved into the Bering Sea slope, Pribilof contains more than 50 percent of the estimated high-quality deep-sea coral habitat and 45 percent of sponge habitat, despite making up less than 2 percent of the entire area covered by the study. The amount of quality coral and sponges varied in the other canyons, but overall they contained more than other parts of the continental slope.

“In this study, we found Pribilof Canyon to be a hotspot for coral habitat in the Bering Sea,” Miller said. “In a previous study, we showed that these corals seem to be important fish habitat. So if conserving essential fish habitat and corals is important to ocean managers, Pribilof Canyon would be a good area on which to focus their efforts. Equally important, our analysis also demonstrates that Pribilof Canyon could be conserved without disproportionately impacting the commercial fishing industry.”

—Julie Cohen is a science writer for UC Santa Barbara.

 
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >