Friends of the Everglades joined 37 organization in signing a letter asking NOAA to oppose the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s proposed Amendment 10 to the Coral, Coral Reefs, and Hard Bottom Fishery Management Plan which would allow shrimp trawlers to destroy the last deep-sea Oculina reefs off Florida.
As the letter states, The Oculina Bank off the east coast of central Florida is the only known place in the world where deep-sea Oculina varicosa form reef structures. This one-of-a-kind ecosystem supports marine life throughout the region well beyond the reef itself. A single 12-inch coral can host up to 2,000 animals, including small fish, crabs, shrimp, and mollusks—many of which are food for higher trophic levels. Oculina Bank is also a spawning site for several species of groupers, important fish prized by recreational and commercial fishermen in the South Atlantic.
It was almost destroyed by trawling in the 1970s and early 1980s, prompting NOAA and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to enact prohibitions on trawling, fish traps, longlines and anchoring. If approved, Amendment 10 would would permit bottom trawling on a “buffer strip” directly adjacent to the fragile coral ecosystem.
NOAA got it right in protecting Oculina from harmful trawling practices decades ago. We hope they will make the right decision and uphold the progress made over the last 40 years to protect Oculina Banks.