Northwest Fisheries Science Center

EXPRESS Deep Sea Coral and Sponge Survey

Survey at a Glance

Dates: October 9- November 8, 2018
Chief Scientist: Elizabeth Clarke
NOAA Ship: Bell M. Shimada
Geographic Range: U.S. West Coast from Newport, OR to San Diego, CA


Coral and sponges are thought to be important habitat for groundfish species. This cruise is part of a four-year West Coast Deep Sea Coral Initiative to better understand the basic biology, abundance and diversity of deep sea coral throughout the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem as well as their ecological role with invertebrates and fish.

The goals of this research survey were to collect Essential Fish Habitat baseline information at 12 sites along the West Coast proposed for modification by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, revisit previously surveyed sites to document if changes have occurred over time, collect information to validate cross-shelf habitat suitability models, collect samples to help in identifying West Coast corals and sponge, and expand the use of new technologies like the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and Remotely Operated Vehicle(ROV).

Advanced Technology

NMFS’ SeaBED Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) is able to dive to depths of 2000 meters. This is a bottom-tracking AUV that can take photos on pre-programmed dives near the bottom (2.5 meters above the bottom) without being tethered to the ship.

ROV Beagle MARE’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) can be controlled remotely from the ship. The vehicle can dive to over 600 meters and the cameras and thrusters are controlled from the surface via a tether. A manipulator controlled from the surface can be used to collect samples.

Survey Highlights

We collected numerous samples for taxonomic and genetic identification and isotope analysis of sponge and coral species. We also have identified many fish species based on video transects. Already we have identified several range extensions, collected several potential new species of sponges and collected coral samples that will aid in description of a new species that has only been observed twice before on the West Coast.

We monitored changes by revisiting sites surveyed by the same AUV in 2005. This will give us an indication if, after the original Essential Fish Habitat closures put in place in 2005, there are any changes in the fish, coral and sponge populations evident. We also collected baseline information in many areas in which new EFH boundaries are proposed.

We tested a new technique in marine genetics by analyzing environmental DNA to tell us the what corals and sponges are in the area. We collected 27 samples of water near corals to see if the DNA of the corals can be identified in the surrounding water.

With support from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, our partners at NOAA’s National Ocean Service/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) are working to develop a cross shelf model to predict suitable habitat for sponges and corals. However, to get the best results every model should be validated. We were able to survey areas, supplied by Matt Poti (NCCOS), that the model predicted were suitable. We successfully surveyed dozens of "Poti points" as they were dubbed by the scientists on the ship. This data will improve the model.

Nancy Prouty (US Geological Survey) and her team of Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars, Carina Fish and Nissa Kreidler, and Chelsea Souza, collected water column samples for vertical profiles of nutrients (n=104, major/minor elements (n=104), water isotopes (n=87), alkalinity (n=91), pH (n=91) and dissolved inorganic carbon (n=49). These measurements will provide a spatial gradient of water column properties that influence coral and sponge habitat, including nutrient availability and aragonite saturation state.

By the Numbers

Sites Studied: 15
AUV Dives: 24
ROV Dives: 37
ROV Transects: 150
Water Chemistry Samples: 123
Coral Samples: 41
Sponge Samples: 54
Geological Samples: 10


NOAA's NWFSC and SWFSC, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and US Geological Survey.

Funding Organizations

NOAA Fisheries’ Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program

What is EXPRESS?

In 2018, a team of federal and non-federal partners initiated a new phase of collaborative science off of the western United States. The EXpanding Pacific Research and Exploration of Submerged Systems (EXPRESS) campaign targets deepwater areas off California, Oregon, and Washington. Research conducted during this cruise is part of the four year West Coast Deep Sea Coral Initiative.

More Information

Learn more about AUVs


  • The autonomous underwater vehicle and remotely-operated vehicle were used to take high-resolution photos of the seafloor off the coasts of Oregon and California, like this one of a sponge garden taken at Mendocino Ridge.
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