NOAA to create refernce library of deep-sea sponges in Alaska

    Alaska deep-sea coral and sponge community. (Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries.)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - According to a new article by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, NOAA is starting a new collaborative project to advance knowledge of Alaska deep-sea sponges and coral ecosystems.

    Alaska has some of the world’s most diverse and abundant sponge communities. NOAA said that the project will provide information critical for effective management of the ecosystems that support Alaska’s valuable commercial fisheries. Maggie Mooney-Seus, NOAA's Seattle media contact, said there is a lot we don't know about the corals in Alaska.

    "They are in pretty deep water, and we have not been able to do a lot of dedicated survey for sponge and coral, and so this is going to be a big effort for us in the next year, and we hope to learn a lot more from it," said Mooney Seus. "We've been able to identify about 150 different species of coral and more than 200 species of sponges in Alaskan waters."

    To develop the library, the team is collecting sponge specimens from the bycatch of Alaska Fisheries Science Center bottom trawl surveys in the Gulf of Alaska this year and in the Aleutian Islands next year.

    These communities provide essential habitat and refuge for many commercially important fish.

    Identifying sponge species and habitat is key for ecosystem-based fisheries management in Alaska, Mooney-Seus said that around this particular project is in the Gulf of Alaska. She said some corals and sponge provide habitats for different commercial fish species like rockfish, shrimp, and crab.

    Mooney-Seus talked about the richness of our cold water communities

    "I think when people think about corals and sponges, they often don't think of finding them in cold water areas, and I think what we hope people will realize, as a result of this and previous work that we've done is that they are, they're rich environments, and there's a lot we can learn about them in Alaska."

    The team is creating a reference library of Alaska sponge taxonomy and genetic sequencing as part of NOAA’s ongoing Alaska Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Initiative.

    More information can be found on NOAA fisheries website, www.fisheries.noaa.gov.

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