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Harbor Branch plays key role in protection of deepwater coral reefs
By Dale Dixon

More than 23,000 square miles of deepwater coral reefs are one step closer to being protected from damage due to fishing, thanks to the help of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

The “Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 1” will protect this fragile ecosystem and is being called “historic,” “a win-win” and “world-class” by both scientists and government officials. This amendment was recently passed by members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, a critical step to providing the reefs full protection.

“In both the process involved and the results achieved, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has set a new standard for the management of valuable ecosystems” said Doug Rader, chairman of the Council’s Habitat and Environmental Protection Advisory Panel.

The groups on which this act will have the greatest impact are the Golden Crab and Royal Red Shrimp fishermen. Their traps and nets are often set on or near areas of deep coral reefs off Fort Lauderdale. As a compromise, the amendment provides “Allowable Golden Crab Fishing Areas and Shrimp Fishery Access Areas.” These are sites at which the researchers and scientists feel the traps and nets will not become tangled with the reefs.

Currently, scientists are taking samples of the coral off the coast of Cape Canaveral using the Johnson Sea-Link submersible from Harbor Branch. They were able to collect the samples at depths more than 1,000 feet and record previously unseen portions of the expansive reefs during the first cruise in August 2009, Environment News Service reported.

Scientist and researcher John Reed of Harbor Branch also is helping to collect and analyze the deep-water species collected with the submersible. These corals give scientists information on climate change that goes back thousands of years.

The only step remaining until the protection of the coral off the eastern coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas is complete is to have the measure passed by the Secretary of Commerce. Then, the coral can be used to study for years and years to come.




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