Deepwater Corals

Full Title: Population Connectivity of Deepwater Corals in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Lead Investigator (Institution): Santiago Herrera (Lehigh University)

Co-investigators (Institution): Andrea Quattrini (Harvey Mudd College), Annalisa Bracco (Georgia Institute of Technology), and Peter Etnoyer (NOAA)

Technical Monitors: Cheryl Morrison ( and Janessy Frometa (

Award Amount: $1,338,193

Award Period: June 1, 2017 – May 31, 2019

Summary: Deepwater corals are three-dimensional structures that provide habitat for diverse and abundant invertebrate and fish communities, including refuge and prey for commercially valuable fisheries. As a result, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is considering designating a number of deepwater coral areas in the northern Gulf of Mexico as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern. In addition, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) has proposed to expand the boundaries of current protected areas to encompass additional coral sites. The establishment of Marine Protected Areas is one of the key restoration strategies for deep benthic communities impacted by human disturbances. The discoveries made by this project will inform these and other management decisions by determining where the corals in different deepwater populations originated. By using genetic analysis of the different populations to see how closely related they are, the researchers will be able to measure connectivity among them. Using a combination of field sampling, state-of-the-art population genomic analyses and physical oceanographic modeling this project will produce maps of genetically connected corals throughout the Gulf of Mexico.