On Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005, scientists will begin a six-day expedition to explore one of Florida's most vital but least familiar marine resources--the spectacular deepwater coral reefs of the Oculina Bank--some 30 years after their discovery. Among the team's goals is the start of a sustained and critically needed monitoring program to complement , and evaluate the effectiveness of, stricter regulations and enforcement activities in the area. The group will also be exploring new portions of the reef revealed by a recently developed high-resolution seafloor map.
The Oculina reefs, in depths from 250 to 300 feet, were built over the past thousand years or so by the delicate ivory tree coral Oculina varicosa, and include a series of spectacular pinnacles, mounds, and ridges that can grow up to100 feet high. Deepwater Oculina reefs are not known to exist anywhere else on the planet besides off Florida.
Fishing for shrimp and scallops has damaged a large portion of the concentrated coral areas of these reefs over the past three decades. However, the remaining healthy reefs still support dense and diverse populations of more than 70 fish species and are critical breeding grounds for commercially important populations of gag and scamp grouper as well as rock shrimp. The reefs' location directly under the Gulf Stream makes them a potentially important source of fish larvae for the entire southeast U.S. continental shelf.
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution scientists first discovered the deepwater Oculina reefs with the Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles in 1975. John Reed, a Harbor Branch coral expert and expedition co-principal investigator, nominated the Oculina reefs to for protection in 1981. In 1984, NOAA approved the the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's (SAFMC) designation of 92 square miles of the Oculina reefs as a coral Habitat Area of Particular C
Source:Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution