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Deep Sea Corals Focus of International Symposium

November 28, 2005

MIAMI - The spotlight will be on the coral reefs of the deep sea at an international meeting of 250 scientists to be held at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science November 28-December 2, 2005.

Organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the George Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (GIBS), the Third International Symposium on Deep-Sea Corals will feature presentations on the unusual life in the most hidden part of the sea and on the importance of conservation of deep sea corals to the general health of the oceans and possibly mankind.

While coral reefs occupy only 0.7 percent of the ocean floor, they provide homes and vital nurseries for 25 percent of all marine species on the planet. Deep-sea corals have long been recognized as a valuable resource and habitat for sea life, but these fragile ecosystems also serve as paleoclimate archives and are viewed as promising sources of future pharmaceuticals.

"We are pleased that the most important scientists in the world studying deep-sea corals will be at this conference," says Robert George, PhD, conference co-organizer and director of GIBS. "While the scientific community has known for a long time the importance of deep-sea corals and seamounts to the health of the oceans, we hope the public will begin to understand the mysteries of the deep as well as their importance to our planet’s well-being."

A November 30 public forum will feature presentations from three prominent coral reef experts, ranging from the potential for pharmaceuticals found in the sea to a profile of a prominent collector of sea life specimens, to a film on the cold water coral reefs off of Florida's Atlantic coast. Free and open to the public, the forum will be held from 7:00-9:00 pm in the Auditorium on the RSMAS campus on Virginia Key.

On Friday, December 2, South Florida's academic community is invited to a forum focusing on "Conservation and Management of Deep-Water Coral Reefs and Seamounts" in the same location. Featured speakers will examine US ocean policy, the United Nations Millennium Goals for Environmental Conservation, and the science and conservation of various cold water ecosystems.

The remainder of the week will feature more than 110 presentations from scientists representing 27 countries seeking to answer a broad spectrum of questions, including:

  • What are these deep-sea corals - their taxonomy and molecular identifications?
  • Following the recent recommendations of the US and Pew Ocean Commissions, how can we introduce "Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management"?
  • How do we best take precautionary actions for conservation, protection, and management?
  • Can we map and sample deep-sea coral habitats without causing physical changes to this unique seascape?
  • What are the hot spots of biodiversity of marine life in the geographically isolated fish habitats in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans?
  • What do we know about the food, growth, and reproduction of deep-sea corals?
  • Can we summarize the fish and fisheries of deep-sea coral habitats on a global basis?

"Whether it be for energy exploration, fisheries, possible pharmaceutical uses, or ecologically important habitat areas for living marine resources, interest in exploring and studying the deep sea continues to rise," says Robert Brock, PhD, conference co-organizer and fisheries biologist for the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service. "The deep sea is the largest unknown area of our planet, and it is only through understanding the stressors in these areas can we effectively target appropriate management actions that will ensure sustainable use in the future."

The conference is sponsored by NOAA, the US Department of Interior's Mineral Management Service, US Geological Survey, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Smithsonian Institution, Pew Institute for Ocean Science (PIOS), Environmental Defense, and the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES).

"Deep-sea coral ecosystems are vulnerable and vast storehouses of biological diversity" says Ellen Pikitch, PhD, executive director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science and a professor at the Rosenstiel School. "We are concerned that unmitigated bottom trawling now encroaching upon the deep sea will wipe out these fragile ecosystems."

This is the third symposium on deep-sea corals. The first two were held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2000 and Erlangen, Germany, in 2003. For more information this conference, visit http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/coral.
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Editor's Note: Though the most of the conference is closed to the general public, reporters and editors are welcome to attend any or all of the sessions. To make arrangements, contact Ivy Kupec at 305-421-4704 or Chris Dudley at 305-456-1625.

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