Cold-water corals

Less understood, equally threatened.

Distinct from their warm-water relatives, cold-water corals occur in all oceans, at all latitudes, in dark, cold, nutrient-rich waters. Although their growth rate is slower, the coverage of deep-water corals may equal or even exceed that of tropical corals.

There are large gaps in our knowledge of cold-water corals. But we know they are ecologically important, providing habitat, feeding grounds, and recruitment and nursery functions for many cold-water organisms including commercially-targeted fish. Their full socio-economic value is also largely unknown, but the evidence points to their importance for local fisheries, both coastal and in deep waters.

Other threats include cable and pipeline placement; bio-prospecting and destructive scientific sampling; waste disposal, waste dumping, and other pollution; coral exploitation and trade; and the upcoming threats caused by CO2 sequestration, mineral

Exploration, and increased atmospheric CO2. Total losses of cold-water corals are unknown, but most reefs studied show signs of physical damage. Some cold-water corals in the Northeast Atlantic have been completely lost as a result of bottom trawling.


Freiwald, A., Fosså, J.H., Grehan, A., Koslow, T., Roberts, J.M. 2004. Cold-water Coral Reefs. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK.

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