On October 24, 2008, scientists from North America and Europe will meet at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to develop the first coherent plan for studying and conserving cold-water corals in the Atlantic Ocean. The plan will lay the foundations for an international research program beginning 2010.
As part of the Trans-Atlantic Coral Ecosystem Study project (TRACES), these world experts will meet to discuss recent findings and outline future research needs that require international scientific cooperation across the Atlantic Ocean. Dr Murray Roberts, a Research Fellow from the Scottish Association for Marine Science is leading the TRACES project. "Some of the best developed and most studied cold-water coral habitats are in the North Atlantic," he said, "but they have never been studied and compared across the ocean basin." Dr. Roberts is supported by a Marie Curie grant from the European Commission.
TRACES is needed now for many reasons, according to Dr. Roberts. Research during the past decade has shown that deep coral ecosystems host extremely high biological diversity that are increasingly at risk due to human activities such as deep-sea fish trawling, energy exploration and production. Once lost, recovery of these ecosystems can take decades to centuries as these corals are among the longest-living species on Earth.
Tim Shank, Associate Scientist in the WHOI Biology Department, is unraveling how the conservation of these vulnerable deep-water habitats requires an understanding of how they are genetically connected throughout the Atlantic. "Understanding how these ecosystems are interconnected, whether through the migratory routes along ocean depths that ultimately support international fisheries or by shifts in ocean circulation brought about by climate change, is critical for conservation and management of these living resources," Shank said.
Because these corals can live for a thousand years or more, they
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution