Gov. Sanford Asks President to Protect Deep Sea Corals Off South Carolina Coast

    WASHINGTON, May 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a letter sent

yesterday, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina asked President George

W. Bush to protect the unique deep sea coral reefs off the South Carolina

coast by establishing the area as a marine national monument. These

spectacular, but largely unexplored, reefs cover an area nearly the size of

South Carolina and stretch from North Carolina to Florida.

 

    (Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20080522/DC23364 )

 

    "This deepwater coral ecosystem constitutes a national treasure on par

with Yosemite Valley and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands in its beauty and

deserves protection," wrote Governor Sanford in the letter to the

president.

 

    The governor was backed by 121 marine scientists who today released a

letter calling on the president to "expand protection for these corals and

commit the necessary resources to understand this important and vulnerable

ecosystem."

 

    "It's impossible to overstate how spectacular this area is and that's

why Governor Sanford's action is so important and visionary," said Dr. Doug

Rader, a marine biologist with Environmental Defense Fund. "Scientists have

only recently come to realize just how unusual these coral reefs are. We

now know that the reefs are one of the most important areas in the world

for marine life. There's nothing else like it and it's in our own

backyard."

 

    The fragile nature of these slow-growing and long-lived corals makes

them highly vulnerable to disturbance. Preserving these reefs - thriving

since our forefathers first entered this land - will provide a safe haven

that will help them adapt to the changing oceans and ensure their survival

for our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

 

    "Every time we visit the reefs we see places no human has ever seen

before, and find new species," said Dr. Steve Ross, a researcher at the

University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Ross leads expeditions to the

reefs using submarines especially equipped to handle the intense pressures

of the deep ocean. "We now believe that worldwide deepwater corals cover

more area than shallow-water corals, and that the world's greatest

concentrations of deepwater corals exists here off the U.S. Southeast."

 

    The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is working with the

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to provide partial protection for

this coral ecosystem using existing authority. A monument designation would

support this process and extend durable, long-lasting protections. This is

an important step that will allow non-damaging fishing to continue while

preserving the unique coral habitats.

 

    "What a legacy Governor Sanford would leave if the president agrees

with his request to permanently protect this magnificent system of towering

corals and exotic fish," said Nancy Vinson, program director at the Coastal

Conservation League.

 

    Many of the coral reefs lie 1,000 feet or more below the ocean's

surface. Some of the coral colonies may be more than 2,000 years old and

some coral mounds may be more than one million years old.

 

    "From a scientific point of view, we've struck it rich - we've found a

treasure trove of marine biodiversity that we didn't know existed until

fairly recently," said Dr. Lance Morgan, Chief Scientist, Marine

Conservation Biology Institute. "With adequate protection, scientists will

be busy for decades finding new species and unlocking the secrets of these

reefs."

 

    About Environmental Defense Fund

 

    A leading national nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund

represents more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense

Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector

partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious

environmental problems. For more information, visit http://www.edf.org

 

 

 

 

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