Summary and Findings
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary protects particularly dense and nearshore patches of productive “live-bottom habitat” that are sparsely distributed from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to Cape Canaveral, Fla., on the inner- and mid-shelf of the South Atlantic Bight. Influenced by complex ocean currents, this area serves as a crossroads for both temperate (colder water) and sub-tropical species. Located 17.5 nautical miles offshore of Sapelo Island, Ga., the sanctuary encompasses 17 square nautical miles. Gray’s Reef offers some of the best recreational fishing and diving to be found in the region. Commercial fishing is very limited or non-existent due to gear restrictions. The sanctuary is just 40 miles south of Savannah, Ga., the second busiest port on the eastern seaboard.
The newest management plan for Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary was released in July 2006. The new plan includes changes and new regulations (effective February 2007) that will further protect sanctuary resources while continuing to allow public access and use. Because the Gray’s Reef sanctuary and the National Marine Sanctuary System embrace regional governance and ecosystem approaches to management, the new management plan contains activities that address the need for increased levels of cooperation with other management and research agencies. These activities consider ecological interrelationships and the entire interrelated coastal ocean system from watershed to oceanic influences and within the larger context of the South Atlantic Bight and the Carolinian eco-region. In addition, stronger research, monitoring and education plans are being implemented along with a proposal to formally investigate the benefits of a research area within the sanctuary.
Overall, the resources protected by Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary appear to be in fair condition. Of the 17 resources or questions identified, three appear to be in good condition, four appear to be in "good/fair" condition, three more appear to be in fair condition, one appears to be in "fair/poor" condition, and four are undetermined. Two resource questions were found after investigation to be unimportant at Gray's Reef sanctuary. None of the resources identified were listed in poor condition. The habitat of Gray's Reef is somewhat disturbed by human activity. Localized heavy recreational fishing in portions of the sanctuary seem to result in inadvertently and intentionally deposited marine debris. Anchoring, which can cause damage to the non-regenerative limestone outcropping reef structures and attached organisms, is now prohibited in sanctuary waters. Although allowable fishing gear is limited to rod and reel (the vast majority of users in the sanctuary) and spear, recreational fishing and spearfishing by divers continue to impact the living marine resources of Gray's Reef. The waters of Gray's Reef are relatively pristine at this time, although some human-produced and persistent pollutants and contaminants have reached the sediments and water-filtering organisms of the sanctuary. The contaminants persist at levels that are not thought to cause any permanent harm to the marine life that thrives in sanctuary waters. While there are archaeological resources to be found in Gray's Reef, it is believed that there are few impacts on these resources, and the impacts do not appear to have had a negative effect on maritime archaeological resource integrity. Emerging threats to the sanctuary include non-indigenous (and potentially invasive) species, contamination of organisms by waterborne chemicals from human coastal activities, and ever-increasing coastal populations and recreational use of the sanctuary.