Deep-sea corals are members of the Class of animals called Anthozoa, which among other creatures, includes sea anemones, stony corals, soft corals and sea pens. Deep-sea corals inhabit the colder deep waters of our continental shelves and offshore canyons in waters ranging from 50-1000 m depths. Where current and substrate conditions are suitable, these corals form thickets or groves of high complexity. Similar to the ancient redwood and sequoia trees, these animals are slow growing and can reach hundreds of years in age. Similar to tropical rainforests, they also provide habitat for many other animals. Deep-sea corals may provide historical clues to climate change and may also be the source of new drugs from the sea.
This healthy branch of Lophelia coral was sampled from deep ocean reefs off the coast of South Carolina. Unlike tropical species of coral, Lophelia possesses no symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae). (Image courtesy of NOAA)
Species of both hard and soft corals are inhabitants of the outer U.S. continental shelf and continental slope. Given that the existence of these coral species has been known for over a century, it is striking that almost nothing is known about their biology, population status, the role they play in enhancing local species diversity, or their role as habitat for deep water fishes, including those targeted by fishermen.