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October 16, 2007

Contact: Ben Sherman, NOAA Public Affairs

NOAA, USGS, NPS Scientists Document Deep-water Coral Mortality Event

Scientists from NOAA, in cooperation with researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service, are reporting the first description of coral loss on a deep U.S. Caribbean reef. Their findings are reported in this month's issue of the journal Continental Shelf Research. The coral mortality event on a deep reef was detected off St. John in the U.S. Caribbean using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) deployed from the NOAA ship Nancy Foster noted during a sea floor mapping mission in 2005.

"Over the past 30 years we have seen a tremendous decrease in live coral cover on shallow reefs in the Caribbean,” said Mark Monaco, a marine biologist from NOAA’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment. “The extensive loss of coral on this deep reef is especially noteworthy since deep reefs could serve as a source of future recruits for shallow reefs during times of stress. Considering the lack of data on deep reefs there is a critical need to map and monitor their condition and investigate possible ecological linkages with shallow reefs."

The well-documented degradation of shallower reefs that are often closer to land and more vulnerable to pollution, sewage, and other human-related stressors has led to the suggestion that deeper, more remote offshore reefs were less vulnerable. Yet the distribution, status, and ecological roles of Caribbean reefs deeper than 30 meters are not well known. Using video and pictures taken from the ROV, coral cover decline was estimated at 25 percent. In stark contrast to the typical pattern of coral loss in shallow reefs, the deeper corals were most affected. This report is the first description of such a pattern of coral loss on a deep U.S. Caribbean reef. Funding for this cruise came from NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Coral reefs are some of the most biologically rich and economically valuable ecosystems on Earth. Corals contribute to the food supply and provide jobs and income, coastal protection, and other important services to billions of people worldwide. Yet they are threatened by an increasing array of impacts from overexploitation, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species, diseases, bleaching, and global climate change.

Rapid decline and loss of these valuable, ancient, and complex marine ecosystems have significant social, economic, and environmental consequences in the United States and around the world. As a principal steward of the nation’s marine resources, NOAA helps coastal communities, managers, scientists, and other partners to understand and sustainably manage coral reef ecosystems.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870’s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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