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Long Term Monitoring of a Deep-water Coral Reef: Effects of Bottom Trawling.
Abstract and Figures
The deep-water Oculina coral reef ecosystem is unique and exists solely off the east coast of central Florida. Oculina varicosa forms azooxanthellate colonies up to 2 m in diameter which coalesce into dense thickets on 20-m tall mounds that are thousands of years old. Recently restored videotapes that were made in the 1970s with the Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles show large breeding aggregations of grouper associated with the coral habitat. Historical photographic surveys provide evidence of the status and health of the reefs prior to heavy fishing and trawling activities of the 1980s and 1990s. Recent quantitative analyses by point count of photographic images reveal drastic loss of live coral cover between 1975 and present. Submersible and ROV surveys conducted from 2001 to 2006 suggest that much of the Oculina habitat has been reduced to rubble by bottom trawling which unfortunately is a trend for deep-water reefs worldwide. In 1984, the Oculina reefs were the first deep-water coral reefs in the world to be designated a marine protected area (MPA). Unfortunately, the northern two-thirds of the reef system remained unprotected and was legally open to bottom trawling until the year 2000 when the boundaries were expanded to 1029 km 2 (300 nm 2) from the original 315 km 2 (92 nm 2). However, portions of the original reserve are still healthy and signs indicate improving grouper populations. In 2006, a high resolution multibeam map was completed which details the hundreds of pinnacles and ridges making up the reef system. Many new reef features were discovered both inside and outside the designated MPA.
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