Sunday, 22 May 2016

Cheeca Rocks (Rachel M & Amanda Small)

Cheeca Rocks

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. 

Juvenile Stoplight Parrotfish and Schoolmaster Snapper
Courtesy of Amanda Small

Species List: 


Sea rods
Porites porites
Diploria labyrinthiformis
Porites asteroides
Orbicella annularis
Colpophyllia natans
Siderastrea sidereal
Montastraea cavernosa
Gorgonia ventalina


Caulerpa sp.
Thalassia sp.
Dictyota sp.
Loggerhead sponge
Asparagopsis sp.
Spiny lobster
Christmas tree worm


Juvenile stoplight parrotfish
Stoplight parrotfish
Juvenile rainbow parrotfish
Rainbow parrotfish
Princess parrotfish
Midnight parrotfish
Great barracuda
Queen angelfish
French angelfish
Yellowtail damselfish
Four-eye butterflyfish
Spotfin butterfly
Black grouper
Nassau grouper
Sergeant major
Bluestriped grunt
French grunt
Spanish grunt
Yellowtail snapper
Blue wrasse
Green moray eel
Blue head
Nurse shark
Hawksbill sea turtle
Atlantic spade

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