Deepwater Canyons 2012: Pathways to Abyss: Background Essays

Cold-Water Corals
Cold-Water Corals in the Gulf of Mexico
Not all corals are found on island coasts in shallow seas. In fact, over half of all known coral species are found in deep, dark waters where temperatures range from 4-12° C. For this reason, we call these corals the “cold-water corals,” and they are found all over the world – including the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil and Gas Platforms and Lophelia Connectivity in the Gulf
Oil and Gas Platforms and Lophelia Connectivity in the Gulf
Population connectivity is the exchange of individuals among geographically separated populations.  For benthic organisms such as corals, connectivity occurs when larvae from one population disperse via ocean currents to another population, where they settle, grow, and reproduce.

Coral Growth
Coral Growth Rates and Sizes
Life is said to move slowly in the deep and this often means organisms have slower growth rates and live longer than their shallow-water counterparts. Living over 2,000 years, deep-water black corals are among the oldest living organisms on Earth. 

Small Animals Living in the Deep Sea
Small Animals Living in the Deep Sea
Deep-sea corals are habitats rich with life, largely a result of the complex habitat that they generate. Fish and invertebrates are easy to see roaming within the coral environment, while much harder to see are the inconspicuous worms and crustaceans living within the cracks and crevices in the coral matrix and adjacent soft sediment (mud) environment.

Applied Science for Informed Decisions on Ocean Energy
Applied Science for Informed Decisions on Ocean Energy
The development of oil and gas resources has been identified as a potential threat to deep-sea coral habitats. In 2011, 480 million barrels of oil and 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were produced in the GOM. BOEM’s mission is to manage the exploration and development of the offshore energy and marine mineral resources on the 1.76-billion acres of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), while protecting the human, marine, and coastal environments.

Deepwater Platforms
Deepwater Platforms in the Gulf of Mexico
Lophelia coral colonies were first recognized on a deep-water platform during a NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research expedition led by John Reed from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in 2003. The observations were made on the Pompano structure located in a bottom water depth of 400 meters. Additional images were obtained by industry in 2009 and we know there is a lot of continued growth of deep-sea corals on this platform now.

The Value of Partnership
The Value of Partnership
Since 2004, BOEM and NOAA's Office of Exploration and Research have partnered, with support from USGS, on a series of novel multi-disciplinary ocean research expeditions to explore and characterize poorly known ecosystems in both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.

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