South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Deep-water Coral HAPCs

To safeguard the importance and uniqueness of deep-water coral habitats in the South Atlantic, the Council designated five Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern which cover more than 23,000 square miles. Management measures to help protect these sensitive habitats include the prohibition on the use of fishing gear (bottom longline, bottom, and mid-water trawl, dredge, pot, and trap), anchoring by fishing vessels, and possession of deep water coral.

Use the interactive map and drop-down menu below to explore the Deep-water Coral HAPCs.

Deepwater Coral HAPCs Descriptions

Cape Lookout Lophelia Banks

The northernmost portion contains the most extensive coral mounds off North Carolina, the main one rising to 260 feet over about a half mile. The sides and tops of these mounds are covered with Lophelia pertusa.  Smaller mounds to the south also appear to be built from a matrix of coral rubble with trapped sediments. Both living and dead corals are common, with some living bushes being quite large. Over 54 fish species and well-developed invertebrate fauna have been observed along the coral mounds in this area.

Cape Fear Lophelia Bank

Coral mounds within this area are as tall as the ones off Cape Lookout but extend over a shorter distance and are also surrounded by extensive fields of coral rubble. Both living and dead corals are common. Over 12 fish species have been observed, (including the greatest numbers of large fishes off North Carolina), and rich invertebrate fauna. This is the only area off North Carolina where wreckfish have been observed.

Stetson /Miami Terrace

This largest of the deep water coral HAPCs is located off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida. Below are descriptions and video clips of areas that have been observed within the HAPC.

The Stetson Reef site along the eastern Blake Plateau off South Carolina contains hundreds of pinnacles and over 200 coral mounds. A 500-foot pinnacle in about 3,000 of water hosts live bushes of Lophelia coral, sponges, gorgonians, and black coral. One of the tallest Lophelia coral lithoherms (high-relief, lithified carbonate mounds) known occurs in this area.

The Savannah and East Florida Lithoherms site comprises numerous lithoherms (some as tall as 200 feet) in about 1,800 feet of water. Submersible dives found large populations of massive sponges and gorgonians in addition to smaller invertebrate species. Some ridges are nearly completely covered with sponges. Swordfish, sharks, and Blackbelly Rosefish have been observed in the area.

The Miami Terrace and Escarpment is an ancient (Miocene) terrace off southeast Florida. The bottom (600-2,000 feet) is rugged and sustains rich communities of organisms, including dense aggregations of Wreckfish, Blackbelly Rosefish, skates, sharks, and schools of jacks. Lophelia mounds are at the base of the escarpment, within the Straits of Florida. The steep escarpments, especially near the top of the ridges, are rich in hard corals, octocorals, and sponges.

Pourtales Terrace

Like the Miami Terrace, the Pourtales Terrace is a Miocene-age terrace off the Florida Reef Tract. This area contains sinkholes, including the Jordon sinkhole, which may be one of the deepest sinkholes known. Twenty-six species of fish were identified from the area including tilefish, sharks, Speckled Hind, Yellowedge grouper, Warsaw grouper, Snowy grouper, Blackbelly Rosefish, Red Porgy, and Amberjack.

Blake Ridge Diapir Methane Seep

The Blake Ridge Diapir Methane Seep is a unique bottom habitat inhabited by chemosynthetic organisms. It lies between 2,600 and 3,200 feet deep. The seep was first discovered in 2001 by a NOAA-sponsored research cruise using the submersible Alvin. Methane coming out of the sea floor quickly “freezes” to form a hanging hydrate deposit (like a stalactite in a cave). If the deposit is brought to the surface, where the water is warmer and the pressure is less, the deposit turns to methane gas.

Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern (OHAPC)

In 1984, the South Atlantic Council recognized the special significance of the Oculina Bank habitat and designated the Oculina Bank as a Habitat Area of Particular Concern. This action closed the area to trawling, dredging, longlining, and trapping. Additional restrictions apply to anchoring and possession of Rock Shrimp and Oculina coral while in this area. More information about these areas can be found at the Code of Federal Regulations.

OHAPC Restrictions

In the OHAPC, no person may:

  • Use a bottom longline, bottom trawl, dredge, pot, or trap.
  • Anchor, use an anchor and chain or use a grapple and chain.
  • Fish for Rock Shrimp or possess Rock Shrimp in or from the area on board a fishing vessel.
  • Possess Oculina coral.

These descriptions have been adapted from General Description of Distribution, Habitat and Associated Fauna of Deep-Water Coral Reefs on the North Carolina Continental Slope (Ross, 2004) and Deep-Water Coral Reefs of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina: A Summary of the Distribution, Habitat and Associated Fauna (Reed, 2004).