A 975 Acre Coral Reef Found in the Gulf of Mexico

In October of 2020 the Mote Marine Laboratory scientists went scuba diving in order to explore the Amberjack Hole. Located approximately 30 miles off of the coast of Sarasota Florida, and about 112 feet into the ocean lies this hole. From the entrance of Amberjack down to the bottom measures about 236 feet deep.

Since September of 2019, a 3 year study is being conducted by Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida Atlantic University, Harbor Branch, Georgia Institute of Technology, the United States Geological Survey and the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration. Their mission is to understand what type of life forms live around the area of the Amberjack hole as well as inside of it.

So far, scientists have reported evidence of nutrient flux moving up from the bottom of the hole, indicating food sources are traveling up as well as descending down into the hole. They also found isotopes of radium and radon, common in groundwater indicating there may be a connection between the Floridan aquifer and the bottom of the hole.

While surveying the surrounding area with new technology in the form of underwater drones later in 2020, the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hydrographic Science Research Center was exploring the neighboring area when they discovered something remarkable! A coral reef whose base sits 450 feet below the ocean’s surface and covers an area of 975 acres. The reef was named Mountain Top Bank Reef since it extends upwards of 200 feet below the ocean’s surface making this reef 450 feet tall at its peak and 975 acres wide. The scientists were pleasantly surprised at the amount of coral and marine life that were thriving on this reef.

Interesting enough, this whole expedition was made possible due to the 2010 BP Oil Spill. After the spill occurred, USM’s School of Ocean Science and Engineering exploration projects were accelerated due to the increase in a need to explore and survey the area from donors. With the extra money, the school was able to acquire underwater drones, called autonomous underwater vehicles, and other equipment that for the first time allowed them to explore the depths of the Gulf of Mexico surrounding areas off the Mississippi Coast.

These drones can help to better monitor oil rigs and uncover new areas like Mountain Top Bank Reef so that they can be protected and conserved. As they say, we may know more about space than we do about our own oceans. Discoveries like this allow us to better navigate our actions as far as acquiring resources go. This way we can still get the resources that we need until we fully switch to more eco friendly options while monitoring, protecting and preserving the surrounding areas that are currently thriving in the meantime.

With thes 2 studies being done in the area, scientists can now help to better preserve our newly found coral reef AND Florida’s aquifer. A HUGE conservation win on all fronts!

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