Gray's Reef Expedition 2004


Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary

Gray's 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 United States.

The 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.

This 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.

Ph. 843-953-7263
Project Oceanica
Dept. of Geology & Environmental Geosciences
College of Charleston
Charleston, SC 29424
Fax 843-953-7850