Can the last deep-sea Oculina coral reefs be saved?: A management analysis of the Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern
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The ivory tree coral, Oculina varicosa, is known to form reefs only in deep water (80-100 meters) off the central Atlantic coast of Florida. These unique reefs support high levels of biodiversity, and provide important spawning habitat for commercially important fish species such as snappers and groupers. The fragile, slow-growing Oculina reefs are easily destroyed by bottom trawls, and other types of bottom fishing gear. In 1984 the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council established the Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC), banning all bottom trawling in a portion of the reef system. The protected area was expanded in 1994 to include most of the Oculina reefs. However, recent surveys showed that about 90% of the reefs have been destroyed, mainly by bottom trawling for rock shrimp. This project is an analysis of why the Oculina reefs are almost gone despite many years of protection, and what could be done to improve enforcement and protection of the Oculina HAPC. Information was collected from literature research, and conversations with several stakeholders and experts on issues relevant to the Oculina HAPC. Four main policy problems emerged: a historical lack of enforcement in the rock shrimp fishery, continuing lack of enforcement in the snapper grouper fishery, insufficient penalties for violations of the HAPC regulations, and a lack of funding for research, enforcement, education, and outreach. The pros and cons of six potential solutions to address these problems are discussed: (1) require VMS in the snapper grouper fishery; (2) establish acoustic monitoring systems in the OECA; (3) increase penalties for violations of the Oculina HAPC; (4) increase funding for research, enforcement, education, and outreach; (5) expand the Oculina HAPC; and (6) establish part or all of the Oculina HAPC as a National Marine Sanctuary. It is important to establish effective protections for the Oculina HAPC, not only to conserve the remaining Oculina reef ecosystems, but to learn how to prevent such widespread destruction of other deep-sea coral ecosystems.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
SubjectIvory tree coral (Oculina varicosa)
Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC)
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