Lophelia.org Lophelia.org
Lophelia.org tracesbanner, Image of Cnidarian polyp (© P.B. Mortensen, 2005)
Lophelia.org Lophelia.org tracesbanner, Image of Cnidarian polyp (© P.B. Mortensen, 2005) Lophelia.org
Lophelia.org tracesbanner, Image of Cnidarian polyp (© P.B. Mortensen, 2005)

Basin-scale Study

Though cold-water coral ecosystems support high biodiversity, provide important palaeo-climatic archives and are widespread on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, they have not been studied at a basin-scale. Most research to date has been relatively small-scale and focused on specific sites or topics. This means our understanding of genetic links between coral ecosystems and their significance as potential centres of endemism and speciation have not yet been realized. Without this type of information, conservation strategies (including networks of marine protected areas) cannot be developed for cold-water coral ecosystems, as our knowledge of how deep-water communities are connected is minimal. As resource management moves towards a basin-wide approach, so must the research supporting it.

Animals from an Atlantic carbonate mound.


The concept behind TRACES was first discussed at a collaborative planning workshop organized by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galway, Ireland (January 2003). The workshop provided participants from eight nations a structured forum to identify critical gaps in our knowledge of cold-water coral ecosystems and to identify specific activities to fill those gaps. The potential for an international expedition focusing on cold-water corals was discussed and next steps were identified, but not executed.

Global distribution reef framework-forming cold-water corals


Following the Galway workshop research on cold-water coral ecosystems continued at national (US and Canada) and European Community levels. The European Community funded a series of large, interdisciplinary projects on cold-water coral ecosystems and carbonate mounds through both the 5th and 6th funding frameworks. This support continues through the current ‘HERMIONE’ project (2009-12).

The TRACES project was launched in early 2008 with initial development funding for a two year period provided through the European Commission's Marie Curie International Fellowship scheme. Over these first two years a group of over 100 individuals from 14 countries has assembled to prioritise the TRACES research agenda and develop a coherent Science Plan. In parallel with this discussions with funding agencies and research proposals are being developed on both sides of the Atlantic.


Advance Scientific Understanding. The TRACES programme is happening now because scientific developments on several fronts make this the right time. Baseline mapping on both sides of the Atlantic has characterised discrete cold-water coral ecosystems from the US South Atlantic Bight, Atlantic Canada and across the mid-Atlantic Ridge to the Norwegian continental shelf. Genetic markers, including several microsatellites, were recently isolated from cold-water corals making it possible to design studies on their linkage and connectivity. Cold-water coral skeletons have given palaeo-oceanographers new geochemical proxies to unravel climate history and ocean temperature regimes. Finally, TRACES will mobilise the ships and expertise to tackle the fundamental biological questions we need to answer to understand how cold-water coral ecosystems will respond to the predicted stresses of ocean acidification.

Address Legislation and Management Needs. TRACES will contribute to critical information gaps in the way we understand and manage deep-ocean ecosystems both in national waters and on the High Seas. Better understanding of the linkages and connectivity between spatially discrete cold-water coral ecosystems is needed if Regional Fishery Management Organizations are to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems. Notable among the international drivers is the United Nations declaration that areas where seamounts, hydrothermal vents and cold-water corals are known or are likely to occur based on scientific information should be closed (UN General Assembly A/61/L.38, 2006). TRACES will contribute to Canada’s Healthy Oceans Network, the European Union’s 6th Environmental Action Programme, and the United States’ Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Programme authorised by the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act (2006).

Build International Partnerships. The international aspects of TRACES will foster existing and develop new international partnerships.  Research personnel exchange and shared ship time will be central components to the programme. By co-ordinating access to research vessel and submersible infrastructure, TRACES will provide a cost-effective mechanism for interdisciplinary research between the US, Canada and the European Union.

Raise Public Awareness. Ensuring long-term conservation and sustainable use of marine resources means raising awareness of marine ecosystems across nations, social groups and generations. Policy makers and non-governmental organizations will be involved from the start of the programme and we will ensure that educators and students are prominently involved in TRACES research cruises.

Unless otherwise specified, content © Centre for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology, Heriot-Watt University