Coral Ecosystem Connectivity 2015: From Pulley Ridge to the Florida Keys

Deep reefs, referred to as mesophotic coral ecosystems, can be found from 100-330 feet in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Pictured is a scamp grouper at 320 feet off the Dry Tortugas

Deep reefs, referred to as mesophotic coral ecosystems, can be found from 100-330 feet deep in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Pictured is a scamp grouper at 320 feet off the Dry Tortugas. Image courtesy of the Cooperative Institute for Exploration, Research & Technology. Download large version (304 kb).

August 22-September 4, 2015

Robert Cowen, Ph.D.
Director and Project Lead  
Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University

Kimberly Puglise
Oceanographer and Project Federal Program Officer
NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

The Coral Ecosystem Connectivity 2015: From Pulley Ridge to the Florida Keys expedition is funded by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, in partnership with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southeast Regional Office, and Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team.

The project is led by the University of Miami and represents a collaboration of over 35 scientists at 11 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. This is the project’s fourth and final field season and the third highlighted on the Ocean Explorer website; see Coral Ecosystem Connectivity 2013 expedition and Coral Ecosystem Connectivity 2014 expedition to read about our 2013 and 2014 field seasons.

The project is focused on investigating the role that the relatively healthy deep, mesophotic reefs of Pulley Ridge (off the southwest coast of Florida) may play in replenishing key fish species, such as grouper and snapper, and other organisms in the downstream reefs of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. Because of the well-documented decline of Florida’s reefs, it is important to identify, protect, and manage sources of larval reef species that can help sustain Florida’s reef ecosystems and the tourism economy that depends on it.

A unique aspect of our project is a Stakeholder Advisory Board, a collaboration of federal, state, and nongovernmental stakeholders that are helping to guide outputs and ensure their utility for resource managers.

The goal of this study is to not only provide a better understanding of the underlying processes that regulate Pulley Ridge and whether Pulley Ridge helps sustain the coral reef communities in the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas, but also help determine if the area would benefit from further protection.

 

Why We Care

The coral reef ecosystems of the southeast United States provide habitat, food, and shelter to hundreds of species of fish and invertebrates. Their economic role in supporting commercial fisheries, tourism, and recreational industries is also considerable. In addition to their aesthetic value, coral reefs provide structural buffers from storms and currents along the highly populated southeast Florida coast.

Observations of relatively healthy mesophotic reefs on Pulley Ridge have opened up questions as to the ecological role that these reefs may play in the replenishment of shallow and other mesophotic coral ecosystems, such as in the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. In an era of rapid coastal ocean changes, it is important to understand the degree of connectivity between Pulley Ridge, a comparatively healthy coral ecosystem, and other coral ecosystems located downstream.

 

Administered by:

NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

 

Participating Institutions:

  • University of Miami
  • Florida Atlantic University
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • City University of New York
  • Florida International University
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Florida State University
  • NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory
  • NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service's Southeast Fisheries Science Center
  • Nova Southeastern University
  • Oregon State University
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Florida
  • University of North Carolina, Wilmington

 

Stakeholder Advisory Board:

  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
  • Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
  • Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force
  • Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center
  • NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southeast Regional Office
  • NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
  • NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
  • South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

 

Mission Background and Information


Mission Plan
Mission Plan
This is the fourth year of a five-year study to investigate the role that the mesophotic reefs of Pulley Ridge (off the southwest coast of Florida) may play in replenishing key fish species, such as grouper and snapper, and other organisms in the downstream reefs of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas.

The Hunt for Benthic Landers
Project Overview
Understanding the factors that determine where mesophotic reefs are located, and distances over which species living within such environments disperse and therefore ‘connect’ populations, are of great interest to marine scientists and resource managers alike.

 June 2014 Sampling Cruise
The Benthic Communities of Pulley Ridge
We are studying the benthic communities of Pulley Ridge, the deepest known photosynthetic coral reef off the continental U.S., with the hopes of understanding whether mesophotic reefs do indeed serve as a refuge for impacted shallow reef species.

Making Connections: Biophysical Modeling of Population Connectivity between Mesophotic and Shallow Reef Ecosystems
Making Connections: Biophysical Modeling of Coral Reef Populations
One of the most important factors in the survival of coral reef ecosystems is their ability to reproduce, and their successful reproduction is largely dependent on the critical phase of larval transport and connectivity. To predict the movement and trajectories of larvae in the ocean, as well as their final destination, we use biophysical models.

Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems
Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems
The term “coral” conjures up visions of warm, tropical waters, or, as of late, the cold dark depths of the ocean where not a ray of sunlight penetrates. Found between these two visions is a relatively unknown and poorly understood depth realm referred to as the mesophotic zone – ‘meso’ for middle and ‘photic’ for light.

About Pulley Ridge
About Pulley Ridge
Pulley Ridge is the deepest known photosynthetic coral reef off the continental U.S. Located in the Gulf of Mexico; it lies approximately 66 kilometers west of the Dry Tortugas at the far end of the Florida Keys. Originally discovered in 1950, Pulley Ridge is approximately 300 kilometers in length and 15 kilometers wide.

Pulley Ridge: Looking Upstream to Protect Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Pulley Ridge: Looking Upstream to Protect Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Greater scientific understanding of Pulley Ridge’s environmental conditions and a species-specific understanding of its ecological connection to the Florida Keys will help determine whether the boundaries of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary should be expanded to include Pulley Ridge.

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