Coral & Sponge Conservation Strategy for Eastern Canada 2015

Table of Contents

All photos in this document were taken by the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility and DFO during recent research cruises using the Remotely Operated Vehicle for Ocean Sciences (ROPOS). These photos illustrate the beauty and diversity of cold water coral and sponge communities with associated marine species. A variety of coral and sponge species are portrayed in an array of vibrant colours and diverse shapes.

Executive Summary

Cold water corals and sponges can be found throughout the waters off eastern Canada, in a range of depths, substrate types, and currents. Whether in a group or as an individual, these animals may provide structural habitat for other marine creatures by providing a place to rest, feed, spawn, and avoid predators. In deep, dark waters, coral and sponge communities may present the only habitat forming features on the seafloor. Corals and sponges are sessile, and generally long-lived and slow growing, making them particularly vulnerable to human activities both directly (e.g., bottom contact fishing gear, subsea pipeline installation) and indirectly (e.g., climate change, ocean acidification).

The advent of cutting edge technologies such as remotely operated and autonomous underwater vehicles has allowed the exploration of coral and sponge communities previously out of reach. Although recent research has significantly contributed to our understanding and appreciation of corals and sponges, there is still a great deal to learn about the distribution, diversity, reproduction, and resilience of these animals.

The conservation and protection of corals and sponges is important to Canadians. Many of the marine animals that have a functional relationship with corals and sponges are of commercial importance to Canadians, making their conservation and protection a key factor in sustainable fisheries management. Coral and sponge communities play a vital ecological role in maintaining diverse and healthy aquatic ecosystems, contributing to species richness and biodiversity. Given our limited knowledge of coral and sponge biology and potential for harmful human induced impacts, it follows that a heightened level of conservation and protection is required.

The Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy for Eastern Canada has been developed to outline the current state of knowledge of corals and sponges, to provide the international and national context for coral conservation, and to outline new and existing research and conservation efforts in eastern Canadian waters. The Strategy provides a comprehensive approach to coral and sponge conservation through increased coordination and collaboration of management and research efforts. The Strategy identifies conservation, management, and research objectives common to all five Fisheries and Oceans Canada management regions in eastern Canada (Central and Arctic, Quebec, Gulf, Maritimes, and Newfoundland and Labrador) consistent with existing legislation and policy through a shared focus on ecosystem-based management.

The goal of the Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy for Eastern Canada is to facilitate the conservation and protection of cold water coral and sponge species, communities, and their habitats in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans of eastern Canada. Protection of these benthic species will be achieved through collaboration and integrated ocean management, providing sustainable economic and ecological value to all Canadians.

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