Federal regulators have signed off on new protections for thousands of square miles of deep-sea corals off New England.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday it has approved a final rule that designates the coral protection areas on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine. The largest of the underwater areas is called the Georges Bank Deep-Sea Coral Protection Area and it is located mostly southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The protected zone places prohibitions on bottom-tending commercial fishing gear, with the exception of certain kinds of crab traps, NOAA officials said. It also creates a dedicated habitat research area called the Jordan Basin Dedicated Habitat Research Area south of the Maine coast.
NOAA said in a statement that the corals are "important sources of habitat for many species of fish and invertebrates, including commercially important fish species."
Environmental groups have also championed the coral protections. Oceana senior campaign manager Gib Brogan said in a statement that the creation of protected zones is tantamount to "closing 25,000 square miles of ocean bottom habitat to destructive fishing" and "is a significant win for deep-sea corals in the Atlantic."