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Scientists Explore Remote, Healthy Reef In Gulf Similar To Florida Keys Reef

Example of corals and algae found on Pulley Ridge, including plate corals and finger coral and leafy green algae and branching algae.
Example of corals and algae found on Pulley Ridge, including plate corals and finger coral and leafy green algae and branching algae.

Submerged 250 to 300 feet in the Gulf of Mexico lies a coral reef that could hold the key to crucial information and resources for the Florida Keys reef. 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research cruise is currently operating at Pulley Ridge, 100 miles west of Key West, where scientists are using a remotely operated vehicle to collect videos and samples from the sea floor.

"What they're looking at is its connectivity, in terms of natural resources, to the Florida Keys," said Sean Morton, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. "Many of the coral we have here in the Florida Keys are the same ones we have out in Pulley Ridge, as are many of the fish that spawn. That spawn comes into the Gulf Stream and populates the Florida Keys."

Coral reefs, although usually associated with shallow water, easily accessible by scuba divers andsnorkelers, can be found at greater depths.  

Colors represent water depth, which ranges from 33 feet (red) to depths of 820 feet or greater (dark blue). Current arrows depict prevalent current direction.
Credit Robert Cowen / NOAA Ocean Explorer
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Colors represent water depth, which ranges from 33 feet (red) to depths of 820 feet or greater (dark blue). Current arrows depict prevalent current direction.

This year's expedition, which is scheduled to last until Sept. 4, is part of a five-year mission to explore the area. The Keys sanctuary is in the middle of a review and update of its management plan. That update might include extending its boundaries to include Pulley Ridge.

The area is important, even if it is too deep to be visited by recreational divers, Morton said.

"The Pulley Ridge is a special place," Morton said. "It's an area that certainly needs more study, because of its health in terms of coral reefs and the problems that we're seeing with the coral reefs here in the Florida Keys but also worldwide."

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