Office of Habitat Conservation

NOAA Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems: Research, Management, and International Cooperation

NOAA has released a pre-publication (text-only) version of its Strategic Plan for Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems. The final publication and response to comments on the draft plan will be available soon.

The Strategic Plan identifies goals, objectives, and approaches to guide NOAA’s research, management, and international cooperation activities on deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems for fiscal years 2010 – 2019. It is intended to identify and integrate research and conservation needs and to be a flexible, evolving document that allows NOAA and its partners to address new management challenges and priorities as appropriate. The primary goal of this Strategic Plan is to improve the understanding, conservation, and management of deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems. The Strategic Plan is designed to guide NOAA activities for deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems as they relate to: (I) Exploration and Research; (II) Conservation and Management; and (III) International Cooperation. The Strategic Plan covers deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems under the jurisdiction of the U.S. and international cooperation activities undertaken by the U.S. These three sections and their associated objectives are summarized in the table below.

Summary of Strategic Plan objectives

I. Exploration and
  1. Locate and characterize deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems.
  2. Understand the biology and ecology of deep-sea corals and sponges.
  3. Understand the biodiversity and ecology of deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems.
  4. Understand the extent and degree of impact to deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems caused by fishing and other human activities.
  5. Understand past oceanic conditions and predict the impacts of climate change using deep-sea corals.
II. Conservation
and Management
  1. Protect areas containing known deep-sea coral or sponge communities from impacts of bottom-tending fishing gear.
  2. Protect areas that may support deep-sea coral and sponge communities where mobile bottom-tending fishing gear has not been used recently, as a precautionary measure.
  3. Develop regional approaches to further reduce interactions between fishing gear and deep-sea corals and sponges.
  4. Enhance conservation of deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems in National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments.
  5. Assess and encourage avoidance or mitigation of adverse impacts of non-fishing activities on deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems.
  6. Provide outreach and coordinated communications to enhance public understanding of these ecosystems.
III. International
  1. Promote international partnerships to conserve deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems through the sustainable management of deep-sea fisheries activities impacting those resources.
  2. Ensure that international trade of deep-sea coral and sponge species, and their parts and products, is sustainable.
  3. Increase international exploration and research of deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems.

Section I of the Strategic Plan identifies the role of research in management including NOAA’s priorities and objectives for research and exploration of deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems and anticipated products for each objective. The goal of NOAA’s exploration and research on deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems is to provide decision makers with sound scientific information that will enable effective ecosystem-based management decisions.  The section is designed to guide both the Magnuson-Stevens Act–mandated Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program, as well as other research in these ecosystems.

Section II lays out objectives and approaches that NOAA will undertake to enhance protection of deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems working with the Regional Fishery Management Councils, National Marine Sanctuaries, and other Federal agencies and partners. The Strategic Plan addresses all of NOAA’s authorities, especially Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act authorities for essential fish habitat, bycatch, and discretionary authorities; and authorities under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

Section III describes NOAA’s participation in international activities to protect and/or conserve deep-sea corals and sponges ecosystems.  It addresses research cooperation and two priority management issues: implementation of measures to prevent impacts of fisheries on vulnerable marine ecosystems on the high seas, and current efforts to ensure sustainable trade in deep-sea precious corals.
NOAA logo Department of Commerce logo