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December 4, 2006

Contact: Ben Sherman, NOAA (301) 713-3066, ext. 178



NOAA has awarded the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez (UPR-M) $451,081 through the Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CRES) program to research and improve management understanding of Caribbean coral reefs at depths of 50 to 100 meters (156 to 330 feet), also called deep water, light-dependent coral reefs. The award is the first installment of a three-year, approximately $1.4 million grant.

Unlike the more well-known shallow tropical reefs, there is little available scientific information on the function and importance of deep water, light-dependent reefs. The grant to UPR-M is designed to address this gap in the Caribbean, employing a multidisciplinary team of scientists to enhance knowledge in three major areas: characterization of the community composition and structure of deep reefs, the connectivity between deep and shallow reefs, and  the vulnerability of deep reefs to human-induced stress.

Key grant outputs will consist of new scientific findings, and will allow scientists to synthesize existing information about these reefs as background for the new findings. The research program will also generate new tools for coral reef assessment and management of deep, light-dependent reefs.

Deep water, light-dependent coral reefs are usually more isolated from human impacts than shallow-water reefs because of their relative inaccessibility and remoteness from land. The relative isolation of deep water coral ecosystems may allow these deeper reefs to serve as refuge areas to species depleted in shallow coral reefs. Deep reefs are also believed to harbor a higher proportion of rare or endemic species compared to shallower reef environments.

“An improved awareness of deep, light-dependent coral reefs is essential to the protection of these delicate and valuable ecosystems,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “NOAA's partnership with the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez will help provide information necessary to identify alternatives to better manage coral reefs.”

This award also allocates a portion of the funds to support a collaboration between UPR-M and NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program (NURP) to establish a deep water dive program at UPR-M. This capability is required for the program to conduct this deep water research. The collaboration will help establish a permanent base of operations in Puerto Rico for deep water diving research.

Of the relatively large body of scientific literature that exists on coral reefs, only a handful concentrate on deep, light-dependent coral reef environments between the 50 to 100 meter (165 to 333 feet) depth range, largely due to logistical and safety issues with SCUBA diving. However, advances in deep water diving technology and development of inexpensive unmanned remote vehicles have opened new avenues to perform needed comprehensive research in these deep marine habitats.

The CRES program was initiated in FY 2002 as a science-based, integrated approach to understand threats to coral reefs, and to provide tools, ecosystem forecasts, and options for coral reef management strategies. The 2006 Deep CRES grant program will build upon the successes of the earlier shallow coral reef CRES programs in the U.S. Caribbean, Guam, and Micronesia. By addressing critical management questions regarding causes of coral reef degradation in a regional ecosystem context, the CRES Program fills a key niche in NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program's research objectives.

The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program supports effective management and sound science to preserve, sustain and restore valuable coral reef ecosystems. The program is a partnership between the NOAA line offices working on coral reef issues, including the National Ocean Service, NOAA Fisheries Service, NOAA Research and NOAA's Satellite and Information Service.

In FY 2006, the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research provided approximately $10 million in competitive grants to institutions of higher education, state, local, and tribal governments, and other non-profit research institutions to assist NOAA in fulfilling its mission to study our coastal oceans. NOAA-sponsored competitive research programs such as CRES demonstrate NOAA's commitment to its historic responsibilities of science and service to the nation for the past 35 years.


In 2007 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.


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On the Web:


NOAA’s National Ocean Service:

NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program:

NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research:




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