On Wednesday May 18th we snorkeled at Cheeca Rocks which is on the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys. It is a SPA, or sanctuary protected area, where humans cannot touch or take anything in the area. This regulation helps protect the organism in the coral reef from harm. It is a mid-channel patch reef in Hawks channel and has a moderate current, since it is not exposed to the long shore currents. Since it is on the oceanic side, there was better visibility than those on the Florida Bay side. It is considered a true coral reef and is relatively new compared to other reefs in the area. The site was about 20 ft at its deepest and visibility was great as we could see to the bottom. Overall, hard coral was more abundant than soft coral, with Gorgonia ventalina as the predominant soft coral species. There were shallower parts which had patchy areas of dead coral caused by recreational diving and snorkeling. However, the site was rich in fish due to the high amount of 3-D structure, which provided a habitat for these organisms. The diversity of algae and grass was low, but the existing algae were equipped with chemical defense mechanisms against herbivory.
In comparison to Tennessee Light and Alligator reefs, Cheeca Rocks had a more moderate current, while the others had a stronger current. Due to the strong current, Tennessee Light and Alligator reefs had more coral overall because the water flow brought in more organic material for coral intake. Soft coral was more abundant at these two sites because they are much more flexible and resistant to breaking in the current. Cheeca Rocks had a higher rugosity than the other two sites, which means the bottom was less flat. It also was more rich in fish, but less diverse.
Christmas tree worm
Juvenile rainbow parrotfish
Green moray eel
Hawksbill sea turtle