National Marine Sanctuary Recreation: Diving

Sanctuary Specific Diving Info | Diving Habitats | Sanctuary Diving Brochure

Recreation: Diving Habitats

Throughout the sanctuaries, a variety of unique habitats exist providing home to diverse marine life and cultural treasures.  As a diver, the conservation of these places provides a sense of wonder and amazement.  It could even be said that diving gives you a “behind the glass” experience of what most people can only see in an aquarium.  Learn more about these environments below.

Coral Reefs

Have you ever seen a coral reef grow right before your very eyes?  If you’ve dived a reef, like those in Florida Keys or Flower Garden Banks national marine sanctuaries, the answer is “yes.”  This is because coral reefs are the result of thousands of tiny living animals called coral polyps that constantly produce a “rock-like” substance known as calcium carbonate.  This process is by no means quick, though.  The formation of reefs takes place over thousands of years as dead polyps leave behind their skeletons and allow for new reef-building corals to grow on top of them.  As most divers know, reefs are anything but identical, each taking a unique shape like an abstract piece of art – the result of different corals species growing in a variety shapes.  Seen as a whole, there is a plethora of cubbies and crevices, attracting thousands of plants, invertebrates, fish, and subsequently, divers who come to see this ever-changing collage of life.

To learn more about coral reefs and the efforts being made to ensure their lasting beauty explore the links below.

Kelp Forests

Ever hiked through a forest and wondered what it’s like to be a bird flying through the canopy high above?  Dive offshore in the cold nutrient rich waters of Channel Islands, Monterey Bay and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries and you’re likely to find out.  Souring through the canopy of a kelp forest gives divers an experience only dreamed of by their terrestrial counterparts.  Golden blades of kelp teem with rockfishes, perch, snails and crabs, and provide haven for sea otters resting at the surface.  Descend to the forest floor and you’re likely to see sponge-encrusted rocks, sea urchins trapped in their carved pockets, and anemones dangling their tentacles in gentle currents.  If you have enough patience, and air, you can even watch a bat star creep along in search of its next meal.  All these animals cluster around the rocky bottom, each vying for space on this crowded forest floor.  This is just a glimpse of what you will see when diving sanctuary kelp forests, though.  Below you will find links providing information on this habitat’s natural history, impacts that threaten its vitality and the efforts being made to ensure that kelp forests remain prime dive destination for years to come.

Live Bottom Communities

An example of a live bottom community, Gray’s Reef is composed mostly of limestone that was deposited as a sandy calcareous mud between two and five million years ago.  In the following glacial periods, continental ice sheets retreated and advanced in response to global climate changes.  During the period of high sea level, the consolidated mud in the Gray’s Reef area provided an increasingly appropriate habitat for marine life. 

The limestone outcroppings and ledges of the reef today stand approximately 9 feet in height, with sandy troughs between.  In contrast to the flat, sandy plain surrounding the area, the limestone not only provides vertical relief, but also a solid base on which a host of sessile invertebrates can grow.  Such organisms include sponges, tunicates, hard and soft corals, sea anemones, and hydroids.  They, in turn provide shelter and food for many of the more mobile residents of the reef such as, banded stars, sea cucumbers, urchins, crabs, lobsters, snapping shrimp, squid, octopus and snails.  In all, they form what is known as a live bottom community.

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