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World’s First Deep-Water Coral Marine Protected Area Established in 1984 Off Florida Coast Now Facing Threat

Can the Biden-Harris administration move forward with America the Beautiful Plan if NOAA and Regional Fishery Management Councils Move Backwards?

Friday, April 29, 2022
Seattle, WA, USA


Mike Gravitz, Director of Policy and Legislation
Marine Conservation Institute
301 351 5052 cell

Dr. Lance Morgan, President
Marine Conservation Institute
+1 707 217 8242 cell

Shari Anker, President
Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County
772 335 3484

The National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanographic and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) published an amendment today to a fisheries management plan in the Federal Register that proposes to re-open part of the world’s first deep-water coral marine protected area to the destructive practice of shrimp bottom trawling. The area, known as the Oculina Bank Habitat Area of Particular Concern, was first protected from trawling by NOAA in 1984 after 90% of the coral reef had been destroyed by shrimp and other trawlers in the 1970s and 1980s. This particular form of deep sea Oculina coral reef is found nowhere else in the world, according to marine conservation scientists, and supports populations of fish prized by recreational fishermen that are overfished in the South Atlantic.

A total of 37 organizations, 14 Florida organizations, zoos and aquariums, and 23 national environmental organizations representing millions of members released a letter to NOAA Administrator Spinrad and NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Coit today asking that the proposal –formally known as Amendment 10 to the Coral, Coral Reefs, and Hard Bottom Fishery Management Plan—be denied. The letter concludes, “We have only one chance to protect this one-of-a-kind ecosystem.  NOAA got it right in protecting the Oculina HAPC from harmful trawling practices decades ago.  NOAA should make the right decision and uphold the progress made over the last 40 years to protect the Oculina Banks.”

Professor John Reed of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute/Florida Atlantic University speaking on his own behalf said, “As a marine scientist with 45 years of experience studying the deep-water Oculina coral reefs and associated ecosystem, it is important to understand that they occur nowhere else on earth. NOAA and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council should be doing everything possible to protect them.  It’s a travesty that the proposed Amendment 1o would open a portion of the Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern (OHAPC) to shrimp trawlers that have been banned from trawling there since 1984. We have to protect this coral ecosystem f0r future generations. Destructive bottom trawls in marine protected areas of any kind should not be allowed.”

Dr. Lance Morgan, President of Marine Conservation Institute, said, “At a time the Biden-Harris administration is trying to expand protected areas under its visionary America the Beautiful program, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is reviewing a proposal that would destroy the last 10% of the world’s only deep-sea Oculina coral reef, the very first protected deep sea coral area in the US. He continued, “The resumption of bottom trawling there would result in a coral reef rubble wasteland and a tragic loss of the unique ivory-tree coral habitat. The proposal is nonsensical since it would benefit fewer than three fishermen in some years. Why would an agency that protected this place in 1984 be thinking about allowing its destruction in this day and age when our ocean is under attack in so many different ways?”

Shari Anker, President of the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County, said “For decades we’ve been watching our local land, waters and oceans decline from actions that governments take or allow, whether it’s putting highways through remarkable wetlands or standing by as parts of the Indian River Lagoon slowly die. The Conservation Alliance fights to protect parks and special places in our County. We ask NOAA to do the right thing and protect the precious Oculina corals off our shores from being crushed by trawler nets and smothered by sediment.”


Press Background 

About Marine Conservation Institute

Marine Conservation Institute, founded in 1996, works in the U.S. and globally to seek strong protection for at least 30% of the ocean by 2030—for us and future generations. Our focus on protecting the ocean’s most important places follows several lines of work: identifying and advocating for strong marine protected areas; improving laws and other tools to better conserve marine biodiversity; catalyzing effective conservation by recognizing and elevating the best marine protected areas as Blue Parks and Blue Sparks; and accurately reporting on conservation metrics with our Marine Protection Atlas (