Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Reef is one of 14 national marine sanctuaries in the United States.
It is located 20 miles offshore of Sapelo Island near Savannah, Georgia
and is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA). Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) is an area that
consists of 58 square kilometers (17 square nautical miles) of a "hard
bottom" (or "live bottom") reef system. In fact, it
is one of the largest near shore live-bottom reefs of the southeastern
rock on which the reef grows is made of mostly limestone that was
deposited two to five million years ago. These rocky outcrops rise
up to three meters (nine feet) from the sandy ocean floor. While the
hard bottom area is extensive, it is not continuous throughout the
sanctuary. These outcroppings, in many places, are separated by sandy,
flat-bottomed troughs. Within the rocky and sandy features of Gray's
Reef, there are series of complex environments such as caves, burrows,
and overhangs that enable many different invertebrates to attach themselves
and flourish. These rocky areas of the ocean floor become carpeted
with invertebrates; hence the terms "live bottom" and "hard
bottom" are used to describe it. Many different species of pelagic
and benthic fish are also attracted to the sanctuary, including black
sea bass, snapper, grouper, and mackerel. One of Gray's Reef scientists
claims that the plant and animal diversity found in Gray's Reef is
comparable to the diversity found in tropical rainforests.
great biodiversity is, in part, the reason why the U.S. government
identified Gray's Reef as one of the most "nationally significant"
marine areas in 1981. Since that time, a management plan was developed
to pave the way for additional research opportunities, like this one.
NOAA, as well as other agencies and organizations throughout the United
States, hopes that with increased research experiences, the scientific
community, anglers, and the general public may grow to better understand
the dynamics within Grays Reef, and therefore, make sound decisions
about the sanctuary.