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USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program

GIS Compilation of Data Collected from the Pulley Ridge Deep Coral Reef Region OF 2005-1089

OF 2005-1089

Disc Contents


Surficial Geology


Data Catalog

References Cited




Pulley Ridge is a chain of drowned barrier islands that extends almost 200 km in 60-90 m water depths (Fig. 1). This drowned ridge is located on the Florida Platform in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico about 250 km west of Cape Sable, Florida (Jarrett and others, 2005). These islands formed during the early Holocene marine transgression approximately 12,000 - 14,000 years before present, and were then submerged by sea level rise and preserved near the outer edge of the Florida Platform. The southern portion of Pulley Ridge is the focus of this study. This area hosts zooxanthellate scleractinian corals, green, red and brown macro algae, and a mix of deep and typically shallow-water tropical fishes. This largely photosynthetic community is unique in that it thrives with less than 5% of the light typically associated with shallow-water reefs with similar fauna.

Several factors help to account for the existence of this unique deep-water community. First, the underlying drowned barrier islands provide both elevated topography and lithified substrate for the establishment of the hardbottom community. Second, the region is commonly bathed by the Loop Current, which brings relatively clear and warm water to this area. Third, the ridge's position on the continental shelf places it within the thermocline which provides nutrients to the reef during upwelling (Halley and others, 2003).

The USGS has made two proposals to resource managers for the designation of marine protected areas based on the geophysical and photographic data in this report. The proposals describe areas that may require some regulatory protection of marine life utilizing the sea floor (Fig. 1).

Figure 1 - location map

Figure 1 shows the study area and suggested areas of regulatory protection.

The first proposal is that the area of greatest hermatypic coral cover (Fig. 1) is considered for future management actions and designated a Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. HAPCs are identified on the basis of habitat level considerations:

  • The importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat.
  • The extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced environmental degradation.
  • Whether and to what extent development activities are or will be stressing the habitat.
  • The rarity of the habitat type.

The second proposed area is for Coral Essential Fish Habitat (CEFH, Fig. 1). CEFHs are defined as "those waters and substrate necessary to corals for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity." The following definitions are provided for clarification:

  • waters is defined as "aquatic areas and their associated physical, chemical, and biological properties that are used by corals"
  • substrate means "sediment, hard bottom, structures underlying the waters, and associated biological communities"
  • necessary means "the habitat required to support a sustainable population and the managed species' contribution to a healthy ecosystem"
  • spawning,breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity covers the full life cycle of a species.

The CEFH shown in Figure 1 is the greatest coral cover in the region as determined by the bottom photo and video transects acquired during this study.

This report presents the geophysical and photographic data that were collected to describe the surficial and shallow subsurface geologic framework of the area where these deep-water corals are known to occur. The data types include multibeam bathymetry, sidescan-sonar imagery, images of high-resolution seismic-reflection profiles, and bottom photographs. In addition, the tracklines for the seismic data, locations of bottom photographs and camera drifts, and tracklines along which submersible and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) observations were made are contained in the GIS files accompanying this report. Unfortunately, video footage from the camera drifts, submersible, and ROV cruises is not available on this DVD due to the quantity of data. The bottom photograph data set has been previously published (Cross and others, 2004), however it is included in this publication in an effort to integrate the varying data sets in one location. This integration is accomplished through the GIS data included on this DVD.

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