Discovering Deep-Sea Sponges in Alaska


Hundreds of species have yet to be described in the ecosystems that support Alaska’s valuable commercial fisheries.

Deep beneath Alaska’s cold waters dwell some of the world’s most diverse and abundant sponge communities. These living structures provide essential habitat and refuge for many commercially important fish. Identifying sponge species and where they live is key information for ecosystem-based fisheries management in Alaska.

Despite their importance, much remains to be learned about Alaska’s deep-sea sponges. Scientists have identified 52 species of sponges in the Gulf of Alaska and over 125 in the Aleutian Islands. An estimated several hundred species have yet to be described.

NOAA Fisheries is leading a new collaborative project taking a major step to advance knowledge of Alaska deep-sea sponge and coral ecosystems. The team is creating a reference library of Alaska sponge taxonomy and genetic sequencing as part of NOAA’s ongoing Alaska Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Initiative. The project will provide information critical for effective management of the ecosystems that support Alaska’s valuable commercial fisheries.

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