NOAA Finished Mapping Bering Sea Canyon Coral

Oct 9, 2014

A scientific study on Bering Sea corals by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows there is no crisis regarding coral protection in the Bering Sea Canyons. 

Credit National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Organizations like Greenpeace have been working to protect the Bering Sea corals.  The group claims the canyons found under those waters face “the increasing threat of climate change, and the uncertainty involved in managing these fisheries, there are no areas protected from fishing along the entire shelf break.”

Research fisheries biologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center Chris Rooper says the concern from Greenpeace was in regards to the fisheries in the area.

“The two canyons, the Pribilof Canyon and Zhemchug Canyon, were both pushed forward or advanced by some non-governmental organizations as being important habitat, coral habitat with potentially unique features on the eastern Bering Sea slope.”

That concern spurred on a massive $2.5 million study.  The analysis of that data produced over 225,000 digital images of Bering Sea canyon and slope floor. NOAA is now able to refute the claims that the corals are in danger.

However, this study was also a revolution for fish and oceanic researchers.  Rooper says the images mostly shows the seafloor, but there are some rocks, boulders and the organisms that live down there.  The stereophonic camera underwater snapped images at a rate of one per second.   

“It’s basically a camera that has two actual cameras in there so they are sequenced, so they are synchronized every second they would click two images, one on the left, and one on the right.  You can use geometry, and if you calibrate those cameras, you can estimate the size of things and recreate a 3-D image of what see down there.”

Rooper says NOAA is using the images to measure fish, predominately. The old way researchers measured fish involved fishing them, then killing them, and physically placing them on a measuring board.  The images are going to be analyzed for future research. 

“So in the immediate future, the images are all going to be analyzed.  The fish and the invertebrates and the type of habitat that they’re on are all going to be documented, the fish are going to be counted, length measured, the invertebrates are going to be sized to like height measurements for coral so we come up with a density estimate for each of our 250 sample sites.  Those density estimates will be compared to a model we have made of where coral should and shouldn’t occur based on the bottom trawl survey.”

The photos were the final phase of a three year plan.  Rooper says the information gathered will be presented to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2015.  Then the council will decide if any action needs to be taken to protect the corals.