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Research on interconnections among Gulf of Mexico ecosystems.
Outreach for decisions based on those interconnections.

NGI News

Turning Deep-Sea Coral Data into Interactive Visual Narratives

March 24, 2023

Madrepora oculata colony and with several deep-sea red crab Chaceon quinquedens.
Madrepora oculata colony and with several deep-sea red crab Chaceon quinquedens. The 'X' marker was placed by researchers in 2010 so they could return to this spot. Image courtesy of Lophelia II: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks 2009 Expedition, NOAA OER/BOEM.
Colorful, lush corals flourish in total darkness and near-freezing temperatures in the deep ocean, providing habitat for commercially important marine species such as grouper, shrimp, and crab as well as organisms that produce chemicals with potential biomedical use.

Most of us will never see these corals in their natural setting with our own eyes, but the NOAA Deep-Sea Coral and Research Technology Program give us the next best thing: a beautiful and information-rich StoryMap titled Characterizing U.S. Deep-Sea Corals and Sponges. This StoryMap allows us to take a virtual dive and explore this fascinating ocean ecosystem using data collected by robots with camera systems and seafloor mapping sonar.

StoryMaps draw from raw scientific data that are then creatively and purposefully combined using elements such as interactive maps, audio and video clips, and imagery. The Deep-Sea Corals and Sponges StoryMap, originally created in 2018 and updated in 2023, was developed by science professionals and researchers at the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and Northern Gulf Institute (NGI).

"Our team consists of talented individuals skilled in GIS/mapping, science communications/writing, education/outreach, web design/usability, and graphic design," explained Heather McCullough, NCEI StoryMap Team Lead with the Information Services Branch for NOAA's Oceanographic and Geophysical Science and Services Division. "We also invite one or more scientific Subject Matter Experts to join us throughout the process. It's this collaboration and combination of skill sets that makes everything work so well."

The StoryMap team's goal is to go beyond simply highlighting specific data sets by providing a fuller view of the scientific topic and making it meaningful to the public. A collection of the team's products are available at the NCEI StoryMap Gallery. Information about the StoryMap process is available at NCEI Story Maps: Bringing Data to Life.

Other products developed from coral ecosystem data include resources organized by type and use from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer February 2022 expedition and tools to make data discoverable with the coral geodatabase, and video portal.

NCEI and NGI data specialists provide NOAA with data management, services, and stewardship so that curated products and resources – such as StoryMaps and searchable information portals – are high quality and publicly available to support ongoing and future research and education efforts.

The Deep-Sea Coral and Research Technology Program is the nation's only federal research program dedicated to increasing scientific understanding of deep-sea coral ecosystems and contributing to the mission of NOAA Fisheries by helping resource managers develop and evaluate management options for these valuable and vulnerable habitats.

The National Centers for Environmental Information is the nation's leading authority for environmental data, managing one of the largest archives of atmospheric, coastal, geophysical, and oceanic research and contributing to the mission of NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service with new products and services that enable better data discovery.

The Northern Gulf Institute is a NOAA Cooperative Institute with six academic institutions located across the US Gulf Coast states, conducting research and outreach on the interconnections among Gulf of Mexico ecosystems for informed decision making. One of NGI's four research themes is Effective and Efficient Data Management Systems Supporting a Data-Driven Economy.

By Nilde Maggie Dannreuther (, the Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University.