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~Divers complete first ever survey on more than 250 sites across northern third of the Florida Reef Tract~

FLORIDA REEF TRACT The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas’ Coral Program completed its portion of data collection dives on more than 250 sites spread across 110 miles of the Florida Reef Tract that runs north from Biscayne National Park in Miami-Dade County to the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County. The completion of this new survey on the northern portion of the reef marks the first time the entire Florida Reef Tract has been documented using the same method.

"This same sampling protocol was recently approved by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for use in two of the other US coral reef jurisdictions - Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands,” said Joanna Walczak, the Regional Administrator of the Coral Program and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary state partnership. “Not only will this data provide the first holistic snapshot of the fish population across the Florida Reef Tract, it will allow for greater consistency of resource management actions in Florida and the Atlantic/Caribbean region. This will ultimately increase awareness of, and protection for, Florida's economically and ecologically valuable coral reef and fish resources". 

The Marine Sanctuary and Biscayne National Park have been conducting this type of monitoring for more than 10 years in the southern portion of the Florida Reef Tract.

Data collected by counting fish in their natural environment, instead of after they’ve been captured, has been recognized by researchers and managers throughout the world as being essential for more accurate and effective management of fisheries and coral reef ecosystems. This data provides Florida with its first opportunity to view the entire Florida Reef Tract as a whole system, rather than relying on separate sets of information taken under different parameters by different management agencies.

Named for its creators, the Bohnsack-Bannerot protocol used for the survey is an assessment protocol independent of the fisheries. Sampling is done by a team of divers trained in fish and coral identification, who count the number of fish, identify different species, and determine size measurements, followed by an assessment of the ocean bottom habitat -- all occurring within a set time frame.

Using a design created by scientists from the University of Miami, staff from the Coral Program, Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center and other divers from local, state and federal agencies used the same protocol. The entire Florida Reef Tract sustains more than 71,000 jobs and generates more than $6.3 billion in sales and income annually.

“Coral reefs are important for the well-being of Florida citizens. Florida’s coastal reef tract supports a multibillion dollar annual economy that involves commercial and recreational activities important to fishing, tourism, and recreation,” said Dr. Jim Bohnsack the Chief of Protected Resources and Biodiversity Division at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami. “The northern Florida reef tract occurs just offshore of the four counties in SEFCRI region, which accounts for almost a third of Florida’s human population. The expansion of the reef tract to this region will for the first time provide better data for managing these resources and controlling threats to the reef.”