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Coral & Sponge Conservation Strategy for Eastern Canada 2015

Coral & Sponge Conservation Strategy for Eastern Canada 2015

Coral & Sponge Conservation Strategy for Eastern Canada 2015 (PDF, 3.30 MB)

Table of Contents

Research on Corals and Sponges in Eastern Canada

DFO recognizes that a strong scientific research program is required to make sound management decisions in order to ensure sustainability of ocean resources, especially for sensitive habitat represented by coral and sponge communities. Understanding these unique species and their inter-relationships with other species in deep-sea ecosystems is crucial in order for DFO to meet conservation objectives under the Fisheries Act, Oceans Act, and the Policy for Managing the Impacts of Fishing on Sensitive Benthic Areas.

In order to properly manage these important and sensitive species and their habitats, detailed knowledge of their biology, distributions (particularly concentrations), biodiversity and ecological relationships with other species, including fish, is urgently needed. Since 2000, several dozen scientific publications have been produced on the biology and ecology of corals and sponges in eastern Canada. Core research focuses on the distribution, diversity and abundance of corals and sponges from fisheries and survey trawl bycatch in eastern Canada (Wareham and Edinger, 2007; Wareham 2010; Baillon et al., 2012, inter alia). More in-depth studies on distribution patterns of corals in relation to physical and biological features have been undertaken in eastern Canada using remotely operated vehicles (Mortensen and Buhl-Mortensen, 2004; Edinger et al., 2011; Baker et al., 2012a,b). While much remains to be investigated on the physiology, biochemistry and life history traits of corals and sponges, nonetheless, through studies of bycatch and dedicated research cruises in eastern Canada, significant advances have been made in our understanding of coral longevities and growth rates (Sherwood and Edinger, 2009), trophic relationships (Sherwood et al., 2008) and reproductive strategies (Sun et al., 2010; Mercier et al., 2011; Mercier and Hamel, 2011; Lacharité and Metaxas 2013; Baillon et al., 2014). Ongoing laboratory research priorities include biochemical, geochemical and reproductive studies. In terms of furthering our understanding of preferred habitat for corals and sponges, recent research focuses on interpolating concentrations of corals and sponges over wide geographic areas (Kenchington et al., 2010; Wareham et al., 2010) and predictive modeling (Knudby et al., 2013a,b,c).

Data on corals and sponges is generally collected opportunistically from the following primary sources: (1) annual DFO multispecies research vessel surveys conducted by Science Branch and (2) fisheries observer data, collected onboard commercial fishing vessels operating within Canadian waters and in the NAFO Convention Area (3) and the Northern Shrimp Survey (DFO and Industry collaboration).

While these sources of information have been invaluable, most rely on trawls which routinely sample on relatively level sea beds leading to a bias in favor of certain types of sea floors. Fisheries Observer Program (FOP) data collected from commercial vessels are biased towards ‘good fishing grounds’. In short, research data can be biased towards ‘trawlable’ bottom types, whereas FOP data can be biased towards ‘fishing effort’. Alternative, non-intrusive data collection techniques (i.e. those used in the 2007 SW Newfoundland slope and 2010 Flemish Cap and Orphan Knoll ROPOS cruises) are often required for corals and sponges, including multibeam sonar, video footage and drop cameras, acoustic sub-bottom profiling, and dedicated remotely operated vehicle (ROV) deployment. Objectives for this type of research include characterization of the geological basis of coral habitat, quantification of coral/sponge diversity and abundance and coral-associated biodiversity, distribution, and comparison of coral diversity and abundance between fished and unfished areas.

While current ecosystem science research within DFO is supported through SPERA for research projects and scientific tool development, collaboration with other regions, nations, universities, and industry has become an effective means of obtaining and sharing information. For example, data collected using the FOP as well as distributional information collected from DFO surveys are made available to the NAFO Scientific Council and NL and C&A Regions to assist in providing advice on measures to protect corals and sponges (Campbell and Simms, 2009). DFO has also undertaken dedicated research cruises in collaboration with international, and academic partners (i.e. Dalhousie University, Memorial University, World Wildlife Fund, Smithsonian and Peabody Museums) that have yielded many publications on coral and sponge populations in eastern Canada (Gilkinson and Edinger 2009) (see Appendix E for additional publications). In 2009, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database on corals and sponges for the NRA and Canadian east coast was created. Also, identification guides for corals and sponges were distributed to address issues of inconsistency between observers in the regions (Kenchington et al. 2009; Best et al. 2010). Local Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is also a source of information (Gass and Willison 2005; Colpron et al. 2010). As previously discussed in Section 6, under Science Sector, results of IFOGS and IGS funded projects have significantly expanded our knowledge of coral and sponge distributions in the eastern Canadian and Arctic regions and have identified key areas for coral and sponge protection. Other sources of funding for coral research in Atlantic Canada include the Environmental Studies Research Funds.

The Canadian Healthy Oceans Network, or CHONe, is a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada strategic network focused on biodiversity science for the sustainability of Canada's three oceans. CHONe pursues research through a wide range of strategies that include extensive field research, image analysis tools, and laboratory experiments which support many research projects related to corals and sponges. Increasingly, international research collaboration is being recognized as an important tool to share resources (e.g. funding, shiptime) and exchange information at basin scales. The TRACES (Trans-Atlantic Coral Ecosystem Study) initiative is an example of cooperation between Canada, the European Union, and US scientists (Gilkinson and Edinger 2009). Increased knowledge of the NAFO areas can be gained through greater scientific collaboration with European Union fisheries research surveys and European Union fisheries observers. Ultimately, however, an ROV cruise for in situ observations of corals and sponges may be required to explore some of these deep-sea areas.

Continued research, especially using non-invasive techniques, is required to understand the diversity of coral and sponge communities found in eastern Canadian waters, and to provide adequate management advice. Recently, collaboration with federal partners, international organizations, academia, and industry has become more common. Data sharing takes place amongst DFO regions, NAFO, and other partners, and as the scientific community continues to advance research on these species, more cooperation is expected. Many data gaps still exist and the Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy for Eastern Canada will promote information sharing, science surveys, and research collaboration to advance our understanding, thereby increasing our ability to protect and conserve these unique species.

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