On July 17, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Bob Halley (St. Petersburg, FL) made an invited presentation before the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in Naples, FL. The presentation was based on ongoing research at Pulley Ridge, a deep (60-80 m) reef in the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida.
The ridge is named after the late Dr. T.E. Pulley, malacologist and founder and long-time director of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is composed of representatives from various fishery associations and State and Federal agencies. It is one of three fishery councils in the Eastern United States whose missions include evaluation of marine-fishery issues, determination of sustainability and optimum yields for various fisheries, and balancing environmental and economic interestsnot an easy task because many of the issues, such as shrimp-fishery bycatch, are highly contentious and involve millions of dollars in revenues.
As part of its charter, the council takes testimony from individuals and organizations and makes recommendations for closed seasons, size of fish harvests, and legal limits, and it recommends areas for protective status. Such activities usually require several months to years of deliberation to reach a consensus.
What happened on the day of Bob Halley's talk was unprecedented: the council came to a decision within 2 hours of his presentation, voting unanimously to designate Pulley Ridge a Habitat of Particular Concern (HAPC). This designation is the first step toward sanctuary or no-take status. That the council took action so quickly can be attributed to Bob's clear style of presentation, the quality of his information, and his lack of an agenda other than good science.
The ongoing Pulley Ridge study is based on multibeam mapping, high-resolution seismic profiling, dredging, ROV and submersible surveys, and a combined grab sampler and underwater camera system called SeaBOSS.
The study has revealed an abundance of platy corals growing on a drowned barrier island, and an abundance of reef fishes. Pulley Ridge is one of the deepest coral reefs with hermatypic corals (corals with symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae) yet to be described.
The study began jointly with University of South Florida (USF) faculty members Al Hine, Stan Locker, Bret Jarrett, and Brian Donahue and includes USGS scientists Dave Twichell and Dann Blackwood from the Woods Hole, MA, office and USF graduate students Kate Ciembronowicz, Beau Suthard, Steve Obrochta, and Monica Wolfson.
There have been four cruises to Pulley Ridge, two with the NOAA-sponsored Sustainable Seas Program, one sponsored by USF, and the most recent one cosponsored by the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program and the University of South Florida.
in this issue:
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council