Characterization of the Corals and Sponges of the Eastern Scotian Slope from a Benthic Imagery Survey
A benthic imagery survey was conducted along the Eastern Scotian Slope in June 2018 to collect data in support of a Strategic Program for Ecosystem-Based Research and Advice project to evaluate the effectiveness of the Lophelia Coral Conservation Area and identify new areas of importance for benthic species that may qualify for protection under Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s 2009 Policy for Managing the Impact of Fishing on Sensitive Benthic Areas. Linear video and photographic transects from ~200 to 1000 m depth were collected at 10 stations between the Gully Marine Protected Area and the Lophelia Coral Conservation Area using the video and photographic camera system Campod and the ‘4K Camera’ drop camera system. Here we present a quantitative assessment of the corals and sponges observed at each of these 10 stations. Patterns in distribution by transect and depth are presented, as well as the relationship between coral distribution and groundfish fishing effort. We highlight the importance of the slope outside the canyons for the distribution of corals and sponges, where nearly 25 taxa were recorded between 167 – 970 m depth. Diversity and abundance appeared to show a west-to-east gradient across the study area, being highest on those stations adjacent to the Lophelia Coral Conservation Area. Groundfish fishing activity overlapped the distribution of corals and sponges in some parts of the study area, particularly between 200 and 500 m where the large branching corals Paragorgia arborea and Primnoa resedaeformis were observed, and also suggested that fishing may have taken place within the boundaries of the Lophelia Coral Conservation Area since its implementation in 2004. An extension of the boundaries of this closure may ensure its continued effectiveness and provide protection for the diverse and abundant coral and sponge communities that reside beyond its boundaries.