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Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
SSE Accomplishments Report

Sherwood Forest, located in the Tortugas Banks, is a unique reef that was explored and characterized during the Sustainable Seas Expeditions in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (photo credit: John Halas)

The 1999 Sustainable Seas Expeditions in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary provided scientists and resource managers with an opportunity to explore relatively unknown marine environments near the Dry Tortugas region where a proposed no-take reserve may be established. Over a several day period, DeepWorker pilots conducted 19 dives with the deepest at 165 feet. Investigators explored an area known as Sherwood Forest, an atypical formation of unique corals. Furthermore, along the reef tract, pilots were able to run deep water transects, adding a new dimension to information collected in shallower areas of the reefs.

Exploration and characterization of the proposed Tortugas Ecological Reserve

Establishing the sanctuary's second no-take ecological reserve in the Tortugas region is a high priority for NOAA. As both a source and a sink for marine biodiversity, the region plays a critical role in sustaining the health of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The boundaries for the reserve are under development and the reserve is scheduled to be initiated in 2000.

This study was designed to explore new deepwater areas in the Tortugas and provide critical baseline information on benthic habitats and fish populations. These objectives were accomplished through 10 dives completed by Sustainable Seas Expeditions investigators Walt Jaap, Pamela Hallock Muller , Erich Mueller, and Laddie Akins as well as Sylvia Earle. The results of this study will help characterize the proposed ecological reserve.

Gulf of Mexico influence on coral reef health

Dr. Erich Mueller of Mote Marine Lab collected salinity, temperature and depth data and video transects of coral habitat which will lay the foundation for a long-term study on the effects of water quality on coral reef resources. Tortugas is the ideal place to conduct this study because of the lack of coastal runoff effects.

Deep water coral reef health

Dr. Phillip Dustan of the University of Charleston has been monitoring shallow coral reefs in the Upper Keys since 1979. Sustainable Seas Expeditions enabled him to extend these investigations to deep water to measure the vitality of corals. Shallow water corals have been on the decline for many years but little is known about the status of deepwater corals. Seven dives were conducted at Carysfort, Conch, and Molasses reefs to investigate coral health and fish populations. Laddie Akins of Reef Environmental Education Foundation surveyed fish populations.

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