Oculina varicosa and the Oculina Bank Distribution in the South Atlantic
Oculina varicosa, or ivory tree coral, is a slow–growing, branchlike coral whose thickets provide spawning sites for numerous species of reef–dwelling fish, including groupers and snappers. Oculina reefs grow along the U. S. continental shelf with concentrations occurring off the east–central coast of Florida. Limestone "pinnacles," lie near the 80–meter depth contour off east–central Florida and extend tens of meters above the surrounding sea floor. This area, called the Oculina Bank, is located approximately 15 miles offshore Fort Pierce. The Oculina Bank has suffered extensive habitat damage due to mobile fishing gear (trawls and dredges) and anchoring activities. (Photo credit: NURC/UNCW).
Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern
In 1984, the South Atlantic Council recognized the special significance of the Oculina Bank habitat and designated the Oculina Bank as a Habitat Area of Particular Concern. This action closed a 92–square–kilometer (300 square miles) area to trawling, dredging, longlining, and trapping. Additional restrictions apply to anchoring and possession of rock shrimp and Oculina coral while in this area.
Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA)
In 1994, the South Atlantic Council created the Experimental Oculina Research Reserve (EORR), otherwise known as the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA), which closed the area to all bottom fishing indefinitely in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the reserve for the management and conservation of snapper grouper populations. The OECA is located within the Oculina Bank HAPC. All restrictions within the larger HAPC apply. In addition, no person may fish for snapper grouper species in the area or retain snapper grouper in or from the area.
The size and configuration of the OECA was reviewed in 2007 and a 10–year re-evaluation is scheduled for 2014. The Council also developed an evaluation plan for the closed area to address the needed monitoring and research, outreach, and enforcement efforts. The Oculina Experimental Closed Area Evaluation Plan outlines approaches to learn more about the resources within the OECA and how management, outreach, and enforcement should be carried out. An Oculina Evaluation Team was created to review the results of the evaluation plan in 2007 and 2014. This team is tasked with reviewing the most up-to-date information on the effectiveness of the OECA and provide recommendations to the Council before any significant actions concerning the closed area are carried out. The first report from the OET was presented to the Council in March 2007.
Oculina Evaluation Team Update
The Oculina Evaluation Team convened in March and November 2014 to re-evaluate the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OCEA). This was the first evaluation since the 2007 evaluation. The OET reviewed the regulations of the OECA, tracked progress toward meeting the objectives in the Evaluation Plan for the Oculina Experimental Closed Area, and commented on the potential for a shrimp access area. The team recommended no changes to the current regulations and suggested another review in 5 years.
Read the 2015 Oculina Evaluation Team Report here.
Materials & Resource Documents
Oculina Bank Rack Card: Available for download here ( pdf).
Regulations & Restrictions:
Oculina Evaluation Team Work:
Oculina Evaluation Team Report (August 2015)
Oculina Evaluation Team Report (February 2007)
Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce - Marine Ecosystems Exhibit: Visit the Smithsonian Marine Station in Ft. Pierce, Florida to learn more about the Oculina Bank and see a living Oculina coral exhibit.
- Brooke S, C.C. Koenig, and A. N. Shepard. 2006. Oculina banks restoration project: description and preliminary assessment. Proceedings of the 57th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute: 607-620. Download pdf.
- Reed, J. K., C. C. Koenig, and A. N. Shepard, 2007. Impact of bottom trawling on a deep-water Oculina coral ecosystem off Florida. Bulletin of Marine Science 81: 481–496. Download pdf.
- Status of the Oculina Experimental Closed Area — 2001 Report submitted by C. Koenig to the Council
- Observations of the Deep-Water Coral Oculina Varicosa in the Gulf of Mexico by Michael C. Barnette, February 2006
- A National Coral Reef Action Strategy — Report to Congress by NOAA