“The corals look like gigantic mushrooms gone wild,” said Jim Bohnsack of the National Deep Sea Coral Reef Marine Fisheries Service’s Science Center in Miami. “The structural complexity of the reef made it an ideal fish habitat. When we first descended it appeared that there were hardly any fish present, but after a few minutes they began popping out from all parts of the reef.”
The scientific team was surprised by the reef’s size and the fact that it is densely covered with coral.
“The abundance and cover of coral in this area is as high as any in the Keys, and it confirms the importance of coral reef habitats in the vicinity of the Dry Tortugas,” said G.P. Schmahl, manager of the lower region of the sanctuary and one of the researchers on the trip. “Due to its location, it has been protected from degradation by human influences, and it could serve as a control area to compare to other reefs in the Florida Keys.”
Schmahl pointed out that the reef, which lies in 60 to 100 feet of water, is similar to another coral reef located in the Gulf of Mexico: the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Texas. “This is a spectacular, healthy resource of the sanctuary, and it needs to be studied and protected.”