Reef-forming corals are commonly associated with shallow, tropical waters yet over 50% of coral species have now been identified in the deep sea (Roberts et al., 2009). Cold-water corals including the dominant scleractinian species, Lophelia pertusa and Oculina varicosa, form extensive cold-water reefs sometimes referred to as coral gardens with diversity akin to shallow reefs (Stone, 2006). Cold-water reefs in the darkened depths of the oceans have fascinated scientists for over 250 years (Cairns, 2007), however; it is only within the last decade as complex underwater technology has developed, that scientists have been able to explore reefs habitats and conduct more in-depth research (Freidwald et al., 2004; Roberts et al., 2006).
Technology involving modelling, in-situ photolanders and radiocarbon dating have been used to assess all aspects of coral ecology: from global distribution, community ecology and species-specific physiology (Gass and Roberts, 2006; Dodds et al., 2007; Davies et al., 2008). The use of technology has helped improve our understanding of cold-water reefs and to uncover damage caused by many human activitis such as bottom trawling, mining and climate change (Fosså et al., 2002; Hall-Spencer et al., 2002; Glover and Smith, 2003; Guinotte et al., 2006). Many reefs across the world have been degraded or completely lost as a result and this is a serious concern for cold-water corals which are long-lived and slow growing (Fosså et al., 2002; Roberts, 2002).
Current understanding of the damage to reefs and appropriate means of management are unfortunatley limited by insufficient biological knowledge and the complexities of working in the deep sea (Roberts et al., 2009). This will prove a challenge for scientists in years to come who no longer consider these habitats ‘out of sight, out of mind’. The combination of threats and public pressure to conserve the ocean, will continue to drive global research efforts in the future (Roberts et al., 2009; Foley et al., 2010). With this in mind, this blog aims to present up-to-date research exploring the biology, ecology and management of scleractinian cold-water reefs.