Despite a growing appreciation of the need to protect sensitive deep sea ecosystems such as cold-water corals, efforts to map the extent of their distribution are limited by their remoteness. Here we develop ecological niche models to predict the likely distributions of cold-water corals based on occurrence records and data describing environmental parameters (e.g. seafloor terrain attributes and oceanographic conditions). This study has used bathymetric data derived from ship-borne multibeam swath systems, species occurrence data from remotely operated vehicle video surveys and oceanographic parameters from hydrodynamic models to predict coral locations in regions where there is a paucity of direct observations. Predictions of the locations of the scleractinian coral, Lophelia pertusa are based primarily upon ecological niche modelling using a genetic algorithm. Its accuracy has been quantified at local (similar to 25 km(2)) and regional scales (similar to 4000 km(2)) along the Irish continental slope using a variety of error assessment techniques and a comparison with another ecological niche modelling technique. With appropriate choices of parameters and scales of analyses, ecological niche modelling has been effective in predicting the distributions of species at local and regional scales. Refinements of this approach have the potential to be particularly useful for ocean management given the need to manage areas of sensitive habitat where survey data are often limited. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.