Deepest U.S. Coral Reef Located

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Posted by on January 08, 2005 at 20:54:23:

Huge, pristine reef under consideration for protection.

Marine researchers with the U.S Geological Survey have announced the “discovery” of the deepest coral reef ever found in the United States, in some 250 feet of water northwest of the Dry Tortugas. Charts label the area Pulley’s Ridge.

Anglers, however, who have been fishing the place for 10 or 15 years, called it Jurassic Park, among other names, because of the big fish found there. Some are now shaking their heads over the wide media coverage---and likely proposals by biologists to ban this underwater Eden to all fishermen.

What sort of fishermen remains up for discussion. Recreational anglers are poorly equipped to fish in that area, which is roughly 100 miles offshore. One would, however, hope that traps and bottom longliners will find Pulley’s Ridge off limits. With an estimated 62 fish trappers left in Florida, they certainly have other areas to fish, until they’re phased out in 2007.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, "We were all blown away by this bizarre, flat, living sea floor covered with blue and brown corals and lettuce-like green algae," said researcher Bret Jarrett, after seeing live video from an unmanned submersible. “The video revealed a stunning number of fish, both deep and shallow water species: giant red grouper, scamp, damselfish, angelfish, hogfish and sea bass. The reef is up to three miles wide and stretches for about 20 miles.”

Walter Jaap, with Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, spent 15 hours underwater at Pulley’s Ridge along various sections, and saw no evidence of fishing impact. “On the Middle Grounds we did see problems there, pieces of longline, hook material, leaders. The Middle Grounds does get some pressure.”

Pulley’s Ridge was noticeably different. “You see lots of grouper species. I spent a half hour mesmerized, watching a high wall of rock, sponges and coral, just a classic nursery area. Lots of tiny fish, just spectacular. Gag, scamp and red grouper around it. Didn’t see a yellowfin or Nassau grouper, but they may be there.”

Officials who oversee the Gulf are now said to be considering how to preserve Pulley’s Ridge. The scientists' research has been presented to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which will decide in the coming months whether to further restrict fishing or trawling in that area.

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