US Coral Reefs

Discussion in 'Diving & Ceph Encounters' started by Omega, Feb 24, 2010.

  1. Omega

    Omega GPO Registered

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    I've been looking over reefs of the Gulf of Mexico, but in the general vicinity of Texas. There is really only the Flower Garden Banks and although you can dive and visit I noticed they regulate so nothing can be taken(which makes perfect sense to conserve). Are the other reefs of the US equally protected? those along the Keys/Hawaii? And how is it people study these reefs without taking or do they allow license for scientists/students?
     
  2. CaptFish

    CaptFish Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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    Yup, all through the FL Keys is the same. I'm not sure about Hawaii but I think it must be protected too. A lot of research is done in what are basically coral farms, which are being grown to restore the reefs here in FL which have been devastated by a number of things inculding, weather, pollution, and commercial fishing. Like with alot of things if you are studying it there may be a permit you can get to harvest small amounts but I am not sure about that.

    Dwhatley, can probably add more. She is the webmaster for Ken Nedimyer, who runs a fantastic restoration program here:
    http://www.coralrestoration.org
     
  3. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    You KNOW I don't do well at short answers but I will give it a shot. I am only somewhat familiar with some of the rules in the Keys and the basic history as I have seen it so my version is a generalization from memory and my association with Ken. Thirty years or so ago, only Penny Camp park was protected and the other areas were open for coral and fish collection. About the time live rock became a popular commercial export (roughly 20 years ago) it was becoming obvious that the reefs were beginning to fail. The State of Florida started regulating and eventually haulting coral removal and extended areas under protection. Of interesting note to help with the commercial aspect, the LR (dead coral) removal was phased and LR farms were allowed (at quite an expense to the farmer but the "property" rental was cheap) to be started in area that could have no effect on existing reefs (barren bottoms 3 miles away from shore). FL also created more regulation for fish and lobster (no license was required to casually fish the ocean for many years). In 2006 Staghorn and Elkhorn coral were listed as vunerable in the US and eventually were added to the International endangered species list.

    The original rules for creating a LR farm allowed the farmer to trade in anything that grew attached to the rock (the farmed rock is had to come from land, not the ocean). Ken noticed some staghorn that had volunteered on the farm and started experimenting, resulting in successful aquaculture and now a full blown nursery. With this winter's loss of much of the shallow reef environment (it is looking really bad, so far dives are showing wipe out of anything in 10 feet or lower water) Ken's project and other like it have greater importance.

    Needless to say, live rock now needs to be either farmed or imported (often damaging reefs outside the US that are not protected) and not personally collected. Because of the endangered listing, staghorn and elkhorn are not available to the aquarist (along with about 8 others). Most of the scientific collection is for corals and is harvested by finding already broken pieces. Most of the US research is to try to find ways to identify heartier (disease and bleaching resistent) corals and encourage propogation through fragging and repopulating a mix of genomes in areas where large populations have disappeared but have show will grow if replanted in hopes that they will spawn and start repopulating again naturally. It is worse than you think and this year's weather tallys are scary and not yet complete.

    Tropical fish collection is highly regulated for the commercial collectors and licenses are hard to come by. I don't, however, know if individual collection for fish is regulated at all (I suspect individuals can collect but I don't know what kind of limits or seasons there are). I also don't know anything about the rules for soft corals (I do know the licensed collectors are monitored for the amount of substrate attached to any legal corals and that is why you will see unattached mushrooms, gorgonians and other softies).

    I am not sure I answered you questions directly but hopefully you have an insite on the situation and how to best think about stocking your aquarium.
     

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  4. Omega

    Omega GPO Registered

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    thanks i'll have to look more into the reefs around here. I'm transferring to a university on the coast here in Texas so I was hoping to get a look at the reefs and take a sample if i found something interesting =p. maybe ill goto mexico with my neighbor..hes always diving in the reefs down there.
     
  5. mucktopus

    mucktopus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Coral are protected worldwide under CITES II (threatened by trade- e.g. without regulation, trade has the potential for serious hard to populations). It is estimated that every day 10,000 pieces worldwide are collected to supply the home aquarium trade (9,000 of these die en route to consumer, which buy 1,000 a day). This is in addition to tremendous and generally unregulated pressure on corals by coral mining for construction materials, and habitat destruction. It is illegal to transport coral across international boundaries without proper permitting documentation from CITES, plus usually an export permit from the home country and an import permit from the destination country. I have never heard of anyone getting a permit for personal use.

    If you simply want the option to collect if you see something interesting (and say- find out the ID, or more about its biology), then I recommend the following scenario, which will ultimately help you get connected with the community of coral researchers/conservationists in your area and help you learn more in the long run: 1) take a picture of the coral in its natural setting (i.e. don't break off a small piece or lift it to the surface) using an UW flash- get a shot of the whole colony, plus use a macro setting to get a close up of the polyps 2) draw a good map of the location so you can return, or tell others how to return, 3) look online and in books to identify it- there aren't that many species there, so although life forms are very diverse, it should be possible to narrow it down, 4) when you find something new, share this with local experts. Florida has lots of coral experts who can help if you run into further questions- and even better perhaps you can intern with/volunteer for one of them.

    A special note about corals in Western Tropical Atlantic/Keys- coral disease is rampant there. Any injury, such as from a fin-kick or from purposefully breaking coral, offers a potential entry point for disease, which can end up killing the entire colony.

    Reef Check, and similar bleaching/disease watches are a great way to use dive time to further an understanding about coral and at the same time contribute to coral reef understanding. Does anyone here know who may run these in your area?

    Anyway- enjoy school and diving!
     
  6. Omega

    Omega GPO Registered

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    ^^this was a very awesome answer. I had just been reading the other day about the disease and divers that go out to check for it. I'll try and implant myself to such tasks once i get my scuba certifications
     
  7. mucktopus

    mucktopus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Glad to be of help! Now to go hit the water myself!
     

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