The shelf-edge Oculina coral reef ecosystem, known only from off the central east coast of Florida, is unique among coral reefs and exists nowhere else on earth. The azooxanthellate (i.e., lack symbiotic algae) branching coral typically produces 1 – 2 meter diameter coral heads which often coalesce into thicket-like habitats with exceedingly high biodiversity, similar to that of tropical coral reefs. Historical accounts indicate very high densities of economically important reef fish as well as grouper spawning aggregations associated with the coral habitat. The uniqueness, productivity, and vulnerability of the Oculina habitat moved the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) in 1984 to declare a significant portion (92 nmi2) of the habitat an HAPC. This legislative action purportedly protected the coral from trawling, dredging, and most other mechanically disruptive activities. Evidence of demographic impacts of fishing on grouper spawning aggregations further stimulated the SAFMC in 1994 to close the original HAPC for a period of 10 years to bottom fishing as a test of the effectiveness of a fishery reserve in protecting the reproductive capacity of groupers. Further expansion of the original HAPC to cover 300 nmi2 was instated in 2000. A 1995 submersible survey suggested that much of the habitat, the economically important fish populations, and the grouper spawning aggregations described in the 1970s were decimated by 1995. A broad-scale submersible and ROV survey conducted in September 2001 found that most (90%) of the Oculina habitat within th
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