, Volume 471, Issue 1-3, pp 43-55

Deep-water Oculina coral reefs of Florida: biology, impacts, and management

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Abstract

Deep-water Oculina coral reefs, which are similar in structure and development to deep-water Lophelia reefs, stretch over 167 km (90 nmi) at depths of 70–100 m along the eastern Florida shelf of the United States. These consist of numerous pinnacles and ridges, 3–35 m in height. Coral growth rates average 16.1 mm yr−1 and biodiversity is very rich. Extensive areas of Oculina rubble may be due to human impacts (e.g. fish trawling and dredging, anchoring, bottom longlines) and natural processes such as bioerosion and episodic die-off. Early in the 1970s, the reefs were teeming with fish. By the early 1990s, both commercial and recreational fisheries, including scallop, shrimp, grouper, snapper and amberjack, had taken a toll on the reefs and especially on populations of grouper and snapper. A 315 km2 (92 nmi2) area was designated the Oculina Habitat of Particular Concern (HAPC) in 1984, prohibiting trawling, dredging, bottom longlines and anchoring, and legislation was enacted in 2000 for expansion of the Oculina HAPC to 1029 km2 (300 nmi2). The United States Coast Guard has been charged with surveillance and enforcement of the ban on bottom fishing and trawling. The primary difficulties in protecting these reefs and other deep-water Marine Protected Areas are their remoteness and time required to engage an enforcement vessel. Education regarding the nature and importance of these rich resources is important for better self regulation and surveillance by the fishing community. Only by bringing deep-water reefs to the public, the fishing community, and enforcement agencies, through video, photos, and education will there be better understanding and acceptance for the need of protection for these unseen resources. This paper reviews the current knowledge on the deep-water Oculina reefs, including the biology, geology, human impacts, and history of conservation and management.