Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)

  published: 12 Jun 2015

New England and Corner Rise Seamounts

General Information
The New England and Corner Rise seamounts are rare islands of hard substratum and uniquely complex habitats that rise from the deep sea into shallow water, in one case to less than 200 m from the surface. Owing to their isolation, seamounts tend to support endemic populations and unique faunal assemblages. Both the New England and Corner Rise seamount chains host complex coral and sponge communities, including numerous endemic species. Benthic diversity is very high relative to the surrounding abyssal areas. Seamount slopes and deeper summit environments (greater than 2000 m from the surface) currently remain free of any direct impacts of human activities, although some of the shallower seamounts have been commercially fished.

A seamount is often defined as a mountain arising abruptly from the sea floor to heights of 1000 m or higher, that is either flat-topped or peaked and occurs as discrete peaks or in linear or random groupings that do not reach sea level (or they would become islands) (Neuendorf et al. 2005). Some deep-sea fishes aggregate on seamounts to feed and/or spawn, while others are more generally associated with seamounts (Morato et al. 2004). They are known as areas of high pelagic biodiversity (Morato et al. 2010). Filter-feeding invertebrates — including corals and sponges — are often found attached to the hard substrates associated with these features (Clark et al. 2006) and the Food and Agriculture Organizat ion (FAO) International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas (FAO 2009) identify seamounts as areas likely to contain vulnerable marine ecosystems. Seamount species also display a relatively high degree of endemism. A recent survey identified approximately 14,000 seamounts globally (Kitchingman et al. 2007).
The topography of seamounts evokes interact ions with ocean circulation, with potential biological responses. Isopycnal doming due to the formation of Taylor Cones brings deeper nutrient-rich water to shallower depth. This may extend into the euphotic zone of shallower seamounts, where the nutrient inputs can locally increase primary product ion. This process may also generate stratification over the seamount , which may stabilize the water masses, promoting retention of eggs and larvae, thereby creating potential for genetic isolation and distinct faunal assemblages. Asymmetric flow acceleration governs sediment distribution and influences benthic communities. Taylor Cone circulation can also advect organic material onto seamounts, enhancing food supply (cf. Pitcher et al. 2007).
Several distinct seamount chains can be found in the North-West Atlantic along with a few isolated knolls, which are smaller, more rounded seamounts. The majority of these features are located in deep water, well beyond the continental slope, with the prominent groupings including the New England Seamounts, the Corner Rise Seamounts, and the Newfoundland Seamounts. Other seamounts and knolls in the area include the Fogo Seamounts, Orphan Knoll and Beothuk Knoll and Muir Seamount (figure 1, in part ). Of the 43 seamounts identified in these areas, only four have peaks at depths less than 1800 m (Kulka et al. 2007a). Shank (2010) notes that one of the longest seamount tracks in the Atlantic Ocean is formed by the New England – Corner Rise Seamount system. This hotspot, referred to as the “ New  England hot spot” Shank 2010), is more than 3000-km-long. A pause in volcanism 83 million years ago is responsible for the present day spat ial gap between these two chains (Shank 2010). Due to their common origin these two seamount chains are herein considered together.
Named seamounts within the New England Seamount chain include: Allegheny Seamount , Asterias Seamount , Balanus Seamount , Bear Seamount , Buell Seamount , Gerda Seamount , Gilliss Seamount ,Gosnold Seamount , Gregg Seamount , Hodgson Seamount , Kelvin Seamount, Kiwi Seamount , Manning Seamount , Michael Seamount , Mytilus Seamount , Nashville Seamount , Panulirus Seamount , Picket Seamount , Physalia Seamount, Rehoboth Seamount, Ret riever Seamount , San Pablo Seamount , Sheldrake Seamount and Vogel Seamount.
Named seamounts within the Corner Rise Seamount chain include: Bean Seamount , Caloosahatchee Seamount with Milne-Edwards Peak, Verrill Peak, Cast le Rock Seamount , Corner Seamount with Goode Peak and Kukenthal Peak, Justus Seamount , MacGregor Seamount , Rockaway Seamount and Yakutat Seamount .

Description of the location
North-west Atlantic

The area includes named seamounts in each of the New England and Corner Rise Seamount chains. Given the large distance of about 300 km between the two seamount chains, this area includes separate polygons for these two chains. The New England Seamounts feature extends into the EEZ of the United States of America but the area described here is entirely beyond national jurisdiction.


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Area Details

Information on the ecology and species associated with the New England and Corner Rise Seamounts was quite limited until recently (Kulka et al. 2007b), and the literature is growing. Complex coral and sponge communities, including numerous endemic species, which provide habitat for diverse invertebrate communities that are highly dependent on them, are found on both the New England and Corner Rise
seamount chains (Shank 2010, Pante and Watling 2012, Simpson and Wat ling 2011, Watling et al. 2011). Kulka et al. (2007a) reviewed the available information on the occurrence of cold-water corals on seamounts in this area. Corals have been documented on the New England (Moore et al. 2001, Watling et al. 2011) and Corner Rise Seamounts (Kulka et al. 2007a, Waller et al. 2007, Watling et al. 2011) but
information on detailed distribution is lacking. Waller et al. (2007) explored five of the Corner Rise Seamounts using an ROV and documented pristine coral areas as well as “dramatic evidence of largescale trawling damage” on the summits of Kukenthal peak and Yukutat Seamount figure 4). Murillo et al. 2008) described the occurrence of structure forming corals and “extremely rough bottom” on two New England Seamounts based on the results of an experimental trawl survey during 2004. Less coralwas encountered on the Corner Rise Seamounts (7% of sets contained coral) in that survey.

Shank (2010) notes that these seamounts are now the focus of intense ecological and evolutionary studies arising from targeted research over the past decade. Over 270 morphospecies have been observed fromunderwater camera surveys within this region. Approximately 75 morphotypes are unique to the Corner Rise and 60 unique to the New England Seamounts (Cho 2008), indicating distinct faunas. Interestingly, a variety of commensal invertebrates are revealing differing levels of specificity to their host corals, ranging from “ facultative” to “ obligate” (Osher and Watling 2009, Shank 2010). For example, the galatheid Uroptychus has been observed only on the antipatharian Parantipathes sp., and the ophiuroid Ophiocreas oedipus only on the coral Metallogorgia melanotrichos (figure 5). The population genetics of some groups illustrate that isolating mechanisms on seamounts within the larger ocean basin exist and canlead to evolutionary change and potentially speciation. For example, a complex picture has arisen fromstudies of Paramuricea collected from 16 locations across the North-West Atlantic (New England andCorner Rise seamounts, submarine canyons along the continental margin of North America, and deep basins in the Gulf of Maine) at depths between 200 and 2200 m. Among 89 colonies sampled, geneticdata show that there are at least four genotypes corresponding to three or four species (Thoma et al. 2009). Two of these are evolutionarily older lineages, and the other two are more recently derived and closely related. All types were found on at least some seamounts, but only one type was found on the continental margin (canyons and Gulf of Maine). Another type was absent from the four easternmost locations in the Corner Rise Seamounts, and a third was absent from the two westernmost locations (Bear and Retriever seamounts). A similarly complex picture emerges with four ophiuroid seastars that occur as commensals on corals (Cho and Shank 2010). Here, there was species-specific genetic differentiation based both on seamount region and depth, indicating that links to host species as well as mechanisms that are critical to connectivity are required for conservation of fauna with such tightly linked interact ions.

Vinnichenko (1997) described the deep-sea fishes encountered during periodic Soviet Union/Russian research and commercial activities on the Corner Rise Seamounts since the mid-1970s where alfonsino (Beryx splendens) was the most abundant species in the catches. Several other fishes were taken in commercial quantities while a diverse fish fauna, species not of economic importance, was also documented. Very lit t le fishing took place on these seamounts over the following decade.

Duran et al. (2005) summarized the catches of deep-sea fish species in an experimental trawl survey of several of the New England and Corner Rise seamounts in 2004. Alfonsino was also the main species caught on the Corner Rise Seamounts during this survey (Duran et al. 2005, Murillo et al. 2008). This species appears to aggregate near certain seamounts, making it vulnerable to exploitation, but they are relatively fast -growing and not long-lived (10-15 years) and thus do not possess the biological traits typical of many other deep-sea species. Other fishes that were caught in significant amounts during the 2004 survey are slow-growing and long-lived. Cardinal fish (Epigonus telescopus), for example, are considered highly vulnerable (ht tp://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=2508). González-Costas and Lorenzo (2007) identified Kukenthal Peak and, more generally, the western port ion of the Corner Rise, as areas of high fish species diversity and abundance compared to other parts of the Corner Rise Seamounts based on catches collected between 2005 and 2007. The most abundant species encountered were alfonsino, black scabbardfish (Aphanopus carbo), and wreckfish (Polyprion americanus). Auster et al. (2005, 2010) described demersal and semi-demersal species from both New England and Corner Rise Seamounts either as habitat generalists, fine-grained sediment specialists, basalt habitat specialists, or ecotone specialists based on foraging tactics in seamount habitats. Based on encounter rates in video surveys from underwater vehicles, it appears that Corner Rise has a more diverse fish community (Auster et al. 2010). False boarfish, Neocyttus helgae, has a significant association with coral habitats, using both octocorals and basalt depressions as flow refuges (Moore et al. 2008). This species also appears to exhibit territorial defense and often occurs in pairs, much like but terfly fishes on shallow coral reefs (Moore et al. 2008).

Seamounts are used as feeding areas for t ransient marine mammals as well (Kaschner 2007). Beaked whales leave marks in fine grained sediments when chasing prey to the seafloor and evidence of their presence has been observed from seafloor imagery at the summits of seamounts in both the Corner Rise and New England groups (Auster and Wat ling 2010).

Clark et al. (2014) have suggested thresholds for assessing EBSA criteria for seamounts, one of which identifies peaks that reach into the photic zone (< 200 m) as being a criterion for uniqueness and rarity. MacGregor Seamount in the Corner Rise complex meets this criterion (figure 4).


Seamount ecosystems are sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance because the fishes and invertebrates associated with them are most ly slow-growing, long-lived, late to mature, and experience low natural mortality (Morato et al. 2004, Stocks 2004). Scientific studies indicate that the summits and upper slopes of seamounts can provide refugia for cold-water stony corals from ocean acidification as they lie in shallower waters with a higher aragonite saturation horizon (Tit tensor et al. 2010, Rowden et al. 2010). Fisheries (using bottom trawl and mid-water trawl) on the Corner Rise Seamounts for splendid alfonsino took place on a regular basis from 1976 to 1996 (Vinnichenko 1997), with total fish removals between 1976 and 1995 exceeding 19000 tonnes (alfonsino being the most abundant species in the catch). This fishing effort was followed by a nine-year hiatus and started again in 2004. Catches for this fishery ranged from about 50 to 1200 tonnes, and effort ranged from four to 50 days. In recent years this fishery has generally been small (catches of 302 tonnes in 2012). By-catch of vulnerable species, such as small-tooth sand tiger shark (listed as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species) has been identified in the current fishery.

The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) closed four areas of seamounts to protect VMEs in accordance with the United Nat ions General Assembly Resolut ion 61/105 to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, including large areas of the New England and Corner Rise Seamount chains (some of which fall outside of the NAFO Convent ion Area) (table 1).

In 2007, two New England Seamounts (Bear and Retriever) within the national waters of the United
States of America were recognized as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) by the New England and Mid-Atlantic fishery management councils. Despite the lack of commercial fishing activities, the councils are developing management measures that could protect the two seamounts from deep-sea bottom trawling in the future (Stiles et al. 2007).

The Report of the Wider Caribbean and Western Mid-At lantic Regional Workshop to Facilitate the Descript ion of Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/16/INF/7), which was considered by the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 11) in 2012, expressly refers to the Corner Rise Seamount chain as home to specialized, fragile, diverse and endemic communities. The workshop report makes a number of references to the Corner Rise Seamounts as well as the New England Seamounts, including reference to the NAFO closures. It specifically discusses the need for monitoring to document recovery of these areas in the NAFO closed areas.

With respect to planned research activities, the US NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer completed a New
England Seamount Chain exploration in June 2013 (NOAA, http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1303/welcome.html). A similar cruise is tentatively planned for 2014.


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Seamounts. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the U.K. 91:369-382.
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Relevant databases
The Seamount Catalog is a digital archive for bathymetric seamount maps that can be viewed and
downloaded in various formats. This catalog contains morphological data, sample information, related
grid and mult ibeam data files, as well as user-cont ributed files that all can be downloaded. Current ly this
catalog contains more than 1,800 seamounts from all the oceans.
ht tp://earthref.org/SC/

Status of submission
Areas described as meeting EBSA criteria that were considered by the Conference of the Parties
  • dec-COP-12-DEC-22
Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria
C1: Uniqueness or rarity High

The seamounts of the area meeting EBSA criteria are rare islands of hard substratum and uniquely complex habitats that rise into bathyal and epi-pelagic depths. These seamount features are otherwise surrounded by vast areas of abyssal sediments. Owing to their isolation, seamounts, tend to support endemic populations and unique faunal assemblages (Pitcher et al. 2007). Both the New England and Corner Rise seamount chains have numerous endemic species (Cho 2008) and demonstrate genetic isolation within and among seamount chains (Cho and Shank 2010). One new genus from the New England Seamounts has recently been described by Watling and France (2011).

Within the New England and Corner Rise seamount chains the MacGregor seamount is unique in that it extends into the photic zone.

C2: Special importance for life-history stages of species High

The canyons and seamounts provide virtually the only hard substrate habitat in the epi-pelagic and bathyal depths of the North-West Atlantic for deep-water corals, sponges and other benthic species. The chain of seamounts here collectively provides a series of spatially structured features that form a broad corridor that may facilitate gene flow among populations of deep-sea and pelagic fauna, and provide nursery or feeding opportunities for migratory species (Pitcher et al. 2001).

Scientific studies indicate that the summits and upper slopes of seamounts can provide refugia from ocean acidification for cold-water stony corals as they lie in shallower waters with a higher aragonite saturation horizon (Tittensor et al. 2010, Rowden et al. 2010). This will have increasing importance to the life histories of cold-water corals in future.

C3: Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats No information

No data were presented on threatened and endangered species/habitats to enable evaluation of this criterion.

C4: Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery Medium

Fauna associated with seamounts are vulnerable to disturbance (Pitcher et al. 2007). Orders of corals and sponge communities are known to be vulnerable, fragile, and sensitive, exhibit slow recovery and growth rates, and are long-lived. Many fish species on seamounts aggregate and are locally restricted. These species can be quickly depleted by fisheries (Morato et al. 2004).

The Sargasso Sea Summary Report considered by COP 11 has also highlighted the high vulnerability of the Corner Rise Seamounts and the New England Seamounts.

C5: Biological productivity Low

The productivity of these areas has not been systematically assessed.

C6: Biological diversity High

Benthic diversity is very high on the Corner Rise and New England seamount chains, where there are numerous endemic and novel species of coral (Simpson and Watling 2011, Panteand Watling 2012). Over 270 benthic morphospecies have been observed from underwater camera surveys within this region (Cho 2008).

C7: Naturalness Medium

Seamount slopes and deeper summit environments (greater than 2000 m) have not yet been directly impacted by human activities (Kulka et al. 2007a). Some seamounts have been commercially fished (Vinnichenko 1997).