NOAA awards nearly $1 million to University of Miami for coral investigation

Project will investigate role Florida’s deep coral reefs play in fisheries, ecosystems

October 13, 2011


Deep reefs, referred to as mesophotic coral ecosystems, can be found from 100-330 feet in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Pictured is a scamp grouper at 320 feet off the Dry Tortugas.

High resolution (Credit: With permission from Cooperative Institute for Exploration, Research & Technology/)

NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science has awarded $998,703 to the University of Miami to investigate how the deep coral reefs of Pulley Ridge may replenish key fish species and other organisms in the downstream reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Tortugas Ecological Preserve.

Pulley Ridge, a relatively healthy coral ecosystem off the southwest coast of Florida, is home to important commercial and recreational fisheries such as grouper and snapper. With the well-documented decline of Florida’s reefs, areas like Pulley Ridge may serve as sources of larvae that can help sustain the Florida Keys’ reef ecosystem and the tourism economy that depends on it. With more of this type of information, resource managers will be better positioned to develop more effective strategies to protect these reefs.

Map of project area showing Pulley Ridge.

Map of project area showing Pulley Ridge, off the west coast of Florida at depths of 200-330 feet in relation to the downstream reefs of the Dry Tortugas and Florida Keys. Colors represent water depth, which ranges from 33 feet (red) to depths of 820 feet or greater (dark blue). Current arrows depict prevalent current direction. Background image is from Google Earth and the depth information is from the U.S.Geological Survey and NOAA.

High resolution (Credit: With permission from R. Cowen.)

"We’re trying to understand not only whether these ecosystems have resources in common, but also the mechanisms of connectivity between them," said Daniel J. Basta, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. "This will give managers information they need to protect reef ecosystems, as well as critical underwater corridors that help replenish Florida’s reefs."

The $998,703 grant is for the first year of the 5-year project led by the University of Miami, and represents a collaboration of more than 30 scientists at ten different universities pooling their expertise with state and federal agency scientists through NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami in coordination with the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology at Florida Atlantic University.

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