[Coral-List] FW: St. Lucie inlet reef under watchful eyes [Florida Department of Environmental Protection in the middle of the first year of an intense monitoring program to document the status of the reef] (Stuart News, 1/4 /04)

Precht, Bill Bprecht at pbsj.com
Mon Jan 5 09:53:10 EST 2004

See excerpt below... Full article with photos can be found through the link

Happy New Year,


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St. Lucie inlet reef under watchful eyes

   By Suzanne Wentley
      staff writer

   Stuart News

   January 4, 2004


STUART -- State reef expert Walter Jaap remembered well the first time he
dove the coral reef off St. Lucie Inlet State Preserve in the late 1970s.

"I was shocked. It used to be conventional wisdom that when you were north
of Miami there wasn't much in the way of coral reefs," said Jaap, an
associate research scientist with the Florida Marine Research
Institute. "But you can find interesting coral formations up to this area."

Some Treasure Coast anglers and divers might be familiar with the area,
often referred to as Peck's Lake reef or kingfish hole.

But scientists are just starting to uncover the uniqueness of the 6-square-
mile reef, considered the northernmost of tropical coral reefs.

Biologists with the state Department of Environmental Protection are in the
middle of the first year of an intense monitoring program, designed to
document the status of the reef.

Its health can then be analyzed before and after $1.2 billion in local
Everglades restoration work is completed, to determine the impact on
natural ecosystems.

The goal -- as was the goal when local activists first persuaded Jaap and
others to focus on the reef just south of the inlet -- is to preserve its
biodiversity and beauty.

"There's just an abundant amount of wildlife there," said Mark Perry,
executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. "Once you see it,
you just say, 'Wow.' It's something we need to preserve."

Under the sea

More than 150 species of fish and more than 200 species of invertebrates
live among the 17 different coral species found in the St. Lucie Inlet
State Preserve.

During an annual fish count at the reef -- sponsored by the DEP and
administered by the national Reef Environment Education Foundation --
volunteers saw everything from yellowtail parrotfish to loggerhead sea
turtles to a spotted eagle ray.

Soft and hard corals are found in the reef, which features the Sabellariid
worm reef -- seen also at Bathtub Reef beach park -- closer to the inlet.

As the reef stretches toward Hobe Sound, there are a variety of corals
planted on a coquina limestone known as Anastasia rock that formed 125,000
years ago after an ice age changed the sea level, Perry said.

Individual colonies of Oculina ivory bush coral, brain corals, great star
corals and sea fans -- all quite small compared to similar reefs in the
Caribbean -- cover about 1 percent of the bottom, which is only about 8 to
20 feet below the surface.

In the Keys, corals cover about 12 percent of the bottom, said Jeff Beal,
director of the DEP's Aquatic and Buffer Preserve field office, who is
coordinating monitoring efforts.

The growth, he said, is likely limited by water temperature and the wave
action that causes some of the corals to grow flat, like a pancake.

"You're at the northern limit for many of these corals," he said. "We were
surprised to discover there is a great diversity of corals down there."

Although the heads of corals are small, the reef is "very healthy here,"
Beal added.

Monitoring the reef

But the health, abundance and diversity is just starting to be documented,
despite years of great fishing that bring dozens of boats to the reef this
time of year, hoping for a Spanish mackerel that swims in a deep hole in
the middle of the reef.

"We're doing the first assessment of that reef," Beal said. "It's amazing
how many things you can see there."

After Jaap's initial dive on the site, he and another scientist wrote a
report encouraging protection of the reef. But it took until January 1988
for the state to buy the submerged lands and create a management plan for
the preserve.

"They do an annual survey of it, and they also have a bunch of volunteer
divers that go and clean it up, to make sure it's in good condition," said
John Griner, preserve manager. "We don't have a large staff to monitor it."

Instead, Beal and a former state scientist, Cindy Lott, met with Jaap to
collect baseline data for the reef.

Using digital video cameras, the scientists shot underwater videos along
pre-determined lines. They counted and identified the species, then logged
the information to compare each year.

Already, the scientists have three lines permanently installed, with plans
to install at least a dozen.

"We want to pick areas with high coral abundance," Beal said. "We want to
see how much does the St. Lucie (Canal) water, how much does that affect
the reef."

That information could be used to gauge the effectiveness of local
Everglades restoration efforts, he added.

Preservation plans

There is more to saving the reef than monitoring.

In the next few years, state preserve officials plan to install anchor
buoys so boats visiting the area won't damage the reef with anchors.

Until then, Perry recommends that boaters be wary of the reef when dropping

"It's simple. You can see the reef from the surface because it's shallow,"
he said. "You want to look for a nice, sandy area. It helps a lot."

Long-term plans for the preserve also include creating a visible boundary
around the reef. Spearfishing is not allowed in the preserve.

Perry also suggested anglers be careful not to break their line on the
rock, because excess fishing line and dropped nets cause hazards for
underwater dwellers.

"The best thing is to use a round sinker, and use it right off the bottom
not to get tangled in the rocks," he said.

As state scientists continue their monitoring, they hope to create a list --
 with pictures -- of all the species that can be found underwater, helping
divers and snorkelers to better appreciate the area's natural wonders.

"It's very easy to break corals, to undo years of growth," Beal
said. "There's a whole community around them. It's a really neat place."


- suzanne.wentley at scripps.com

Reef dwellers

Some of the species found at St. Lucie Inlet State Preserve:

 - Cocoa damselfish (www.reefnews.com/reefnews/news/v05n05/cocoad.html)
The damselfish, commonly found in the Caribbean, eats algae growing on
tropical corals and uses the area for breeding.

 - Long-spined black sea urchin
This species of sea urchin experienced a major die-off in the Caribbean in
the 1980s, but have a healthy population here.

 - Great star coral
Impressive colonies of this tropical coral are large enough to be very old
and stable.

 - Mutton snapper (indianriver.fl.us/fishing/fish/snapmutt.html)
Because spearfishing is illegal within the preserve boundary, snapper and
other game fish are able to grow and feed among the reef.


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