January 14, 2011

Protection Sought For Newly Discovered Coral Reefs

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are vowing to protect newly located coral reefs found in a 12 mile span off the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, hoping that their discovery could lead to the revitalization of the area's coral ecosystem.

The new reefs, located at depths of between 100 and 500 feet, were discovered by Richard Appledoorn, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, and divers participating in a one-year training course, according to Danica Coto of the Associated Press (AP).

Appledoorn, the head of the school's university's fisheries, biology and coral reef studies program, said that they "stumbled across" the mesophotic coral ecosystem, which according to Coto was a "deep underwater landscape"¦ populated by lettuce coral, the lace-like star coral and several species of sponges, as well as groupers, snappers and reef sharks."

According to Coto, Appledoorn is seeking protection for the area, something that local managers are said to be "looking carefully at" in the words of an NOAA press release.

"We recognize the need to extend protections to mesophotic coral ecosystems in Puerto Rico, and the information being provided by this research is key to making that happen," Ernesto Diaz, director of Puerto Rico's Coastal Zone Management Program, said in a statement.

The discovery of the reef, which was initially announced by the NOAA last week, comes as representatives of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are looking to create a partnership "to better coordinate the use of coastal waters and the implementation of conservation programs," Coto reports.

A proposal for said collaboration, which would be known as the Coastal Zone Management Program, has been submitted to the NOAA for approval.

"Among the partnership's proposed goals is the creation of a zoning map for waters surrounding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The map would designate certain areas for conservation, recreation or commercial purposes"¦ The project also would allow researchers to explore how the ocean could be harnessed for energy or for the development of fish farms or the installation of underwater fiber-optic cables," the AP said, citing Diaz as the source of their information.


Image Caption: Bright blue ascidians, known as sea squirts, are found thriving at 50 meters (164 feet) among corals, light green algae (Lobophora), and red, orange, and brown sponges. Credit: H. Ruíz/NOAA


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