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updated 9/26/2012 3:51:26 PM ET

A survey of underwater canyons off the U.S. East Coast found a number of previously unknown hotspots for deep-sea corals.

Nizinski et al, NOAA / NMFS / NEFSC / WHOI
Soft coral, probably Paragorgia arborea, on the edge of Hendrickson Canyon, off the coast of New Jersey.

The exploration, the first to look for corals and sponges in the area in decades, is helping researchers develop a computer model to determine where other coral hotspots might be found.

The survey took place over a two-week stretch in July. Researchers aboard the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Henry B. Bigelow ship looked for corals in submarine canyons off New Jersey, and connected to Georges Bank, a large elevated area of seafloor about 60 miles (100 kilometers) offshore that stretches as far south as Cape Cod, Mass., and north to Nova Scotia.  

“The deep-sea coral and sponge habitats observed in the canyons are not like those found in shallow-water tropical reefs or deep-sea coral habitats in other regions,” said Martha Nizinski, chief scientist of the research cruise, in a statement.  “We know very little about the distribution and ecology of corals in the canyons off the Northeast coast. Although our explorations have just begun, we’ve already increased our knowledge about these deepwater coral habitats a hundred times over.”

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