Replenishing Key Fish Species

New NOAA grant will help scientists investigate role Florida’s deep coral reefs.

Coral Gables (October 17, 2011) — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science has awarded nearly $1 million 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.

The $998,703 grant is for the first year of a five-year project led by UM 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.

Teams will use technical diving, remotely operated vehicles, and advanced modeling and visualization tools to investigate the role such reefs may play in the replenishment of downstream and adjacent shallow coral ecosystems.

“There is limited information on the ecological role mesophotic coral ecosystems may play,” says Robert Cowen, principal investigator and professor of marine biology and fisheries at UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “This project brings together several disciplines to conduct studies on the physical characteristics of the region, the biology and ecology of the resident species, and the valuation of ecosystem services that Pulley Ridge provides. Our intent is to create a comprehensive understanding that can support a variety of decision-support tools, including scenario-building options, to facilitate comprehensive resource planning in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.”

CIMAS Director Peter Ortner says the project “takes full advantage of the unique expertise and experience of the two NOAA Cooperative Institutes and their long-standing relationship with the resource management community. All but one of the Florida university partners in CIMAS will be participating in the project.”

To assure that the outputs from the project are of maximal utility to resource managers, a standing stakeholder advisory board consisting of senior federal, state, and regional resource managers will guide the project throughout its duration.


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Map of project area showing Pulley Ridge, off the west coast of Florida at depths of 200 to 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).

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