Research and education

Scientific research provides the underlying knowledge for conservation and means to educate the public and policy makers. Multinational programs such as the Hotspot Ecosystem Research on the Margins of European Seas (HERMES, undated), and NOAA’s Coral Reef Information System program (NOAA, undated) have hugely contributed to research efforts over the last decade, by increasing awareness of cold-water coral ecosystems and providing information for decision makers. It has often been the case that a joint effort between educating the public and government is needed to implement protective measures. Several good examples of this are the closure of Norwegian fishing grounds in areas of Lophelia reef in 1999 (Armstrong and Van den Hove, 2008); the closure of the Darwin Mounds in 2004 to bottom trawling (De Santo et al., 2007), and the creation of the Sitka Pinnacles Marine Reserve in 1999, off the Gulf of Alaska (Witherell and Coon, 2004; NOAA, undated).

Research using predictive modelling e.g. Ecological Niche Factor Analysis (ENFA) can assist with locating and mapping reefs on the basis of suitability factors (Davies et al., 2008; Guinan et al., 2009). ENFA can directly help to shape legislation appropriate to cold-water coral conservation, such as plans by the UN general assembly to ban bottom fishing (Davies et al., 2008). Molecular studies also have good potential within future research¬† and have already been used to assess phylogeny of cold-water corals in relation to reef connectivity (Roberts et al., 2009). This has an application within the design of MPA’s and for focusing future efforts, perhaps towards resilience studies, that have up until now only been investigated for warm-water corals. Restoration efforts may be a valuable means of recovery with the placement of artificial structures to enhance recruitment. This has been shown for Oculina varicosa using ‘reefballs’ and ‘reef discs’, which were successfully colonized and seen to attract large numbers of fish (Brooke et al, undated). This method was however only tested experimentally and on small-scale.

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