New Research to Illuminate Connections between Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico

Pulley Ridge Map showing general location of the Pulley Ridge located along the west coast of Florida (60-100 m) and in relation to downstream reefs of the Dry Tortugas and Florida Keys. Depth ranges in this image from red (10 m) to dark blue (>250 m). Background image and depth information are from the USGS and NOAA NESDIS.

WASHINGTON D.C. — Pulley Ridge, a relatively healthy mesophotic (mid-light) coral ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico, is home to groupers and snappers, important species in commercial and recreational fisheries. With the well-documented decline of Florida’s reefs, places like Pulley Ridge may serve as sources of larvae that can help sustain the Florida Keys’ reef ecosystem and the tourism economy that is dependent on it.

The NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research is initiating a 5-year $5 million project focused on the role that the reefs of Pulley Ridge and the northern Gulf of Mexico may play in replenishment of key fish species and other organisms in the downstream reefs of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. With this type of information, resource managers will be able to develop more effective strategies to protect these reefs. Teams will use technical diving, remotely operated vehicles and advanced modeling and visualization tools to investigate the role such reefs may play in the replenishment of downstream and adjacent shallow coral ecosystems.

The project, led by Principal Investigator and University of Miami Professor Robert Cowen, represents a unique collaboration of more than 30 scientists at ten different universities pooling their expertise through NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) in coordination with the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration Research and Technology (CIOERT).

“There is limited information on the ecological role mesophotic (mid-light) coral ecosystems may play,” said Cowen. “This project brings together several disciplines to conduct studies on the physical characteristics of the region, the biology and ecology of the resident species, and the valuation of ecosystem services that Pulley Ridge provides. Our intent is to create a comprehensive understanding that can support a variety of decision support tools, including scenario-building options, to facilitate comprehensive resource planning in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.”

“The project takes full advantage of the unique expertise and experience of the two NOAA Cooperative Institutes and their long-standing relationship with the resource management community. All but one of the Florida university partners in CIMAS will be participating in the project," said Peter Ortner, Director of CIMAS.

To assure that the outputs from the project are of maximal utility to the responsible resource managers, the project will be guided throughout by a standing Stakeholder Advisory Board consisting of senior federal, state and regional resource managers.

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About NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science/Center for Coastal Ocean Research

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The Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) based at the University of Miami, within the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, brings together the research and educational resources of nine major public and private research universities in Florida and the U.S. Caribbean to further NOAA’s mission by providing a Center of Excellence relevant to understanding the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. For more information, please visit


The Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology (CIOERT) was established in July 2009. CIOERT is a consortium led by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Pierce, FL. For more information please visit

pulley ridge •  dr. robert cowen •  noaa •  gulf of mexico •  cimas •  peter ortner •