Exploring the Reef Systems of Savannah Scarp

September 6, 2001

Reed Bohne
Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary

"For the sea lies all about us. The commerce of all lands must cross it. The very winds that move over the lands have been cradled on its broad expanse and seek ever to return to it. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations of dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea –- to Oceanus, the river ocean, like the ever flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end."

Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Seward Johnson II

The Seward Johnson II research vessel moves northward from Ft. Pierce, FL, to begin research at the Savannah Scarp off the coast of Georgia. Click image for larger view.


The Clelia submersible, aboard the Seward Johnson II, awaits deployment into unexplored reef systems. The first dive of the Savannah Scarp leg will begin at 8 am on the morning of Sept. 7. Click image for larger view.

We will be sailing north, cruising at a stately 10 knots on calm seas aboard the Seward Johnson II from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce, FL. Indeed, the sea lies all about us. Since boarding this evening and greeting the departing crew from the Oculina Bank expedition, we will not see land until we return on Sunday. Our destination is the Savannah Scarp. This is an unexplored reef system at the edge of the continental shelf some 60 mi east of Savannah, GA. Our objective is to document and characterize the habitats and reef fish communities at this shelf-edge reef. Dr. George Sedberry, our chief scientist for this cruise, has worked for years at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. At the Savannah Scarp, we will compare this rocky reef habitat with the ledges and outcrops of the inner shelf environment at Gray’s Reef.

We suspect that many of the reef fish species we encounter at Gray’s Reef spend a part of their life cycle at deeper reef habitats such as the Savannah Scarp, and we are intent on developing a better understanding of the relationship between near-shore and offshore reefs in this part of the country. The value of the deeper reefs as habitat for valuable snapper and grouper fish species is well documented. Given the depleted condition of many of these deep-water species, NOAA and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council are considering the reefs we will explore for possible designation as a marine protected area.

There is excitement in being the first people to visit these dramatic reefs. Some 20,000 yrs ago, during the last great ice age, this area was the shoreline of the sea. So, as Rachel Carson suggests, the continent has dissolved and returned to the sea. We will explore with great hopes of discovery as we join this leg of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions/Islands in the Stream mission in the South Atlantic Bight.


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