Florida's Oculina Reefs

John Reed
Senior Research Specialist, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution

The first leg of NOAA's Islands in the Stream 2001 Expedition in September to the deep-water Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) off the east coast of Florida was a great success. This 300-nmi2 reserve is the first protected marine area in the world to attempt to protect deep water coral.  Scientists from NOAA, HBOI, NURC, NASA, NMFS, University of Florida, and Dynamac joined to map and nsrvey these unique reefs. Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution provided the ship and CLELIA submersibles for the dives.  In 8 days, 16 sub dives and 13 ROV dives were conducted throughout the reserve and resulted in more than 70 hours of underwater videotape documentation.  Numerous historical sites, some not seen for nearly 25 years, were revisited.  In all, much has changed during the past two decades, including significant habitat destruction, apparently from shrimp trawlers and reduced reef-fish abundance.  In contrast, the apparent success of artificial- Reef Ball experiments [provided by a Grant from the Reef Ball Foundation to NOAA] and occasional sightings of grouper aggregations were encouraging.  This work significantly improved our understanding of the Oculina Reserve and provided valuable new findings to support management of these special resources.