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Deep treasure to be found in Oculina Bank

oncern (HAPC) where the use of bottom trawling, longlines, fish traps and anchoring by fishing vessels was prohibited. In 2000, the Coral HAPC was expanded to 300 square miles and now extends from Fort Pierce to Cape Canaveral. The original 92 square-mile area, now known as the Oculina Experimental Closed Area, has further restrictions including prohibition of bottom fishing for snapper and grouper species. However, surface trolling for species such as dolphin, tuna, and sailfish is still allowed in the Experimental Closed Area and the larger HAPC since it poses no threat to the reefs.

"The [SAFMC] has led the nation in managing deepwater coral ecosystems by setting up this reserve, it is now up to scientists to show if it's working," says expedition leader Andy Shepard from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Undersea Research Center (NURC) at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

The Oculina expedition, funded by NOAA, will run from Oct. 12-18 on board the M/V Liberty Star, a NASA space shuttle support ship operated by United Space Alliance and normally used to retrieve spent solid rocket boosters. A second related expedition is planned for May 2006. To explore the reefs, researchers will be using NURC's Phantom SII Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), an undersea robot equipped with video and still cameras and a manipulator arm for gathering samples. Team members will also be filing daily dispatches from the ship at www.at-sea.org.

One of the expedition's goals is to "ground truth," or verify, a newly produced high-resolution multibeam sonar map of the region, which offers unprecedented resolution to reveal bottom features that were previously indistinguishable. The team will explore various areas using the ROV to compare observations with what appears on the map. This will allow scientists to associate certain colors and other map features with the type of habitat they indicate, such as sand bottom, coral ledg
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Source:Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution


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