Bringing Together Experts to Plan Innovative Deep-sea Habitat Restoration

Deep sea coral and sea stars on the Florida Escarpment in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

The Open Ocean Trustees are bringing together a wide range of deep-sea experts and stakeholders to participate in restoration planning for injured mesophotic and deep benthic communities. The convenings are supporting restoration projects approved in the 2019 Open Ocean Restoration Plan 2. That plan approved approximately $126 million for four projects (PDF, 2 pages) to restore these communities impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

There are many challenges to restoring these habitats. There is limited information about the species that make up these communities, and limited restoration practice and technical experience in the U.S. and internationally. To meet these challenges, the four long-term projects work together to advance our ability to manage, protect, and restore deep-sea habitat with the help of a growing network of experts and resource managers.

Over the past year, teams from NOAA and the Department of the Interior collaborated with researchers and resource managers to inventory and compile existing data and information. This effort contributed to building a Gulf-wide database to assess the state of the science and identify priority information gaps.

Experts from academia, federal and state agencies, fishery management and sanctuary councils, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector—many who assisted with the inventory—will come together this fall. They’ll provide their expertise and identify priority areas, additional critical information needs, and best practices for deep-sea habitat restoration.

Engaging Experts and Practitioners This Fall

Starting in October, stakeholders will participate in a collaborative process to identify and share information about priority geographic areas and identify the type of mapping, ground-truthing, and predictive habitat modeling information needed at priority sites. These inputs will help support restoration, protection, and management, and plan project work over five years.

Later this fall, experts in seafloor mapping, modelers, ocean engineers, and scientists will participate in predictive habitat modeling summits. There they’ll share their knowledge about the state of mapping and ground-truthing science, technologies, and best practices. These summits will help prioritize project activities designed to improve models that can predict the extent and distribution of deep-sea habitats in the Gulf of Mexico.

Documenting the condition and species within deep-sea habitats is another important component of restoration. Experts in invertebrate ecology, fish ecology, genetics, and the health and recovery of deep-sea habitats and species will participate in a series of workshops later this fall as well. They’ll share their expertise and build on our inventory of restoration science. Input will help determine best practices for project work and identify data gaps for assessing and evaluating mesophotic and deep benthic communities.

Restoration will also rely on expanding and discovering new techniques to establish deep-sea coral communities in suitable areas of the Gulf. To do this, the projects will bring together coral experts, benthic ecologists, and restoration scientists to help select species and the techniques and artificial substrates that will be the focus for pilot efforts to restore deep-sea habitat.

Learn More and Attend Our October 28 Webinar

The Gulf of Mexico has a vast and unique deep-sea environment that supports the health and diversity of the broader ecosystem. These mesophotic and deep benthic communities are a foundation of the Gulf of Mexico food web and were injured across a large area by the 2010 oil spill. The Deepwater Horizon restoration projects are harnessing a range of expertise, local knowledge, and state-of-the-science to overcome challenges to restore this important habitat.

To learn more attend an October 28 deeper dive webinar into Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Communities restoration. That webinar will follow the Open Ocean annual meeting.

For more information contact