The more we discover about these ecosystems, the more we realise how much we are damaging them. It is a sad fact that we are destroying them a lot quicker than we are learning about them. Successful management and protection of these ecosystems require us to have a thorough understanding, which presently is severely lacking. Mapping and simple ecological research is needed to help us understand more, this is discussed below, amongst other important points:
The main reason for the increase in research and public awareness of this area is advances in technology. Accurate GPS is now available allowing for faster mapping of larger areas of seabed, and several companies are developing software tools to support identification of seabed features such as CWCs (Huvenne et al. 2002)
Education and outreach are both important for raising awareness. Quality images are especially vital for CWCs as they are out of sight, and they help to show the public how diverse corals and the animals associated with them are. Not only that but they help to illustrate the negative effects we are having on the habitats.
In order to increase our understanding of these ecosystems, filling these two gaps in our knowledge is vital according to Freiwald et al. (2004);
- To understand the biological and ecological processes and interactions of CWC, the associated diversity of species and the regulating factors that control distribution and
- Gain enough information to decide the level of conservation needed, and to ensure from now on that no corals get damaged by accident.
Based on meetings organised by NOAA and the Irish Marine Institute, scientists have come up with 8 broad areas of work on in order to establish a thorough knowledge of these ecosystems;
- Mapping – Using multibeam technology to develop quality maps showing CWC distribution, to develop quality maps to better understand reefs that we already know about and to gain bathymetric data
- Oceanographic data – Help improve knowledge of the physical factors that affect the extent and distribution of CWC habitats
- Geomorphology – To gain a better understanding of habitat preferences of various species, colonisation, reef succession and re-colonisation after damage
- Collection of species in order to better understand the genetics of corals and their life histories
- Data collection on their value to other organisms to understand the wider implications for damaging reefs
- Discovering all the ways we may produce a negative effect on these reefs, so we can combat them early
- Data collection on relationships between CWCs and human livelihoods and lastly
- Time-series data – collecting data over a vast period of time to help identify long term changes in habitats.
As surveying will be very expensive in the deep, modelling methods and aquarium based experiments will be vital in the hunt for knowledge.