Protection and Future expectations

CWCs form a very unique ecosystem which when disturbed can take a long period to fully recover. Recovery of these corals takes a long process as Lophelia grows from 1 to 25 mm per year, whilst some may never recover at all (Roberts 2002; Hall-Spencer et al 2002).

Figure 5: Image of white and orange colonies of the cold-water coral, Lophelia pertusa undergoing skeletal fusion in Nordleksa reef, Norway.

Figure 8: Image of white and orange colonies of the cold-water coral, Lophelia pertusa undergoing skeletal fusion in Nordleksa reef, Norway.

As CWC are easily disturbed and take a long period of time to recover, they are listed on the United Nations Food and Agriculture organisation to be the most vulnerable ecosystems. This organisation has produced the International Guidelines for Management of Deep-sea Fisheries on the High Seas which protects deep sea vulnerable marine ecosystems. The United Nations General Assembly have made protection policies to maintain ecosystem health including CWC communities (Munoz and Sayago-Gil, 2001).

Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program by the National Marine Fisheries Service has also put several protection plans in place in a range of places around the globe. Regions such as Alaska, Pacific Islands, West Coast, North East and Gulf of Mexico where data and analysis are collected and taking place for further research.

Figure 8 shows Lophelia pertusa and how fusing occurs between their skeletal polyps. CWC, L. pertusa have been found to have the ability to take on as deep sea ecosystem engineers by fusing together of their skeletal structures  to form larger corals.  Individual colonies are able to bond with their allogenic tissue fusion. Allorecognition is a major role in the coral family that allows the corals to recognise self and non self (Hennige et al, 2014).

Although CWCs have been difficult to sample due to them being found in deep depths of the ocean, scientists have increased their understanding and knowledge of CWC extreme ecosystems over the last two decades. With the use of new acoustic equipment and improved vessels, further research will be attained for further knowledge of CWC and possible other adaptations to cope with major threats such as oil spills, bottom trawling, ocean acidification on their survival and growth.

Efforts to provide conservation towards CWC ecosystems are in place focusing on creating marine protected areas (MPAs). Restrictions have been made on bottom fishing with the use of towed nets and dredges. The first MPA put in place to protect CWC habitat was found in Florida (1984) which is known as a ‘Habitat Area of Particular Concern’ at the time. This protected area was put in place to protect CWC reefs of Oculina varicosa. Although efforts are put in place, it has been important to continue to carry them out. It had later occurred that the protected area had been damaged by fisheries between 1977 and 2001. MPAs are now monitored and enforced to prevent any further damages that could be avoided (Roberts & Cairns, 2014).

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