It was that rarest of good news in ocean advocacy: a coral reef, once brought to the brink of destruction, gains protection and sees the first glimmers of a rebirth. Oculina Bank, a deep water coral reef off Florida’s Atlantic coast, has been a shining example of how decisive actions to remove a direct threat from an ocean ecosystem can lead to outcomes that benefit biodiversity.
However, decades of progress are at risk, as fisheries regulators consider opening the area once more to harmful shrimp trawling --a fishing practice that involves dragging weighted nets over the sea floor.
Oculina Bank is a one-of-a-kind coral reef. The white, tree-like Oculina coral filter feed approximately 200-300 feet under the waves, creating the habitat for shrimp, crab and other small fish that form the basis of Florida’s marine ecosystem. They also serve as an important spawning habitat for Florida’s iconic grouper, which have been overfished in recent years. Florida Atlantic University Professor John Reed, a coral reef researcher, estimates that one single 12-inch Oculina coral can support hundreds of animals.