NOAA installs coral reef navigation aids
A Coast Guard official prepares a Racon beacon for installation at Fowey Rocks, 20 miles southeast of Miami
March 9, 1999
Web posted at: 2:30 PM EST
In an attempt to save the fragile coral reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard have installed eight Racon radar transponder beacons to provide navigational aid to passing ships.
The beacons have been placed strategically from Miami to Loggerhead Key in the Dry Tortugas, 70 nautical miles west of Key West.
The new devices were purchased by the owners of the Contship Houston, a 613-foot container ship that went aground two years ago on a coral reef near Maryland Shoal off the lower Florida Keys, as part of a damage assessment and restoration agreement.
"The coral reefs of the Florida Keys are a national treasure. Providing a navigation system that will help prevent vessel groundings is a truly creative and innovative approach to repairing harm to the public's resources," Terry Garcia, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said in a statement.
The beacons are mounted on navigational structures along the Florida reef tract. The devices emit unique signals that appear on ship radar, allowing mariners to precisely identify the location of navigational aids and steer clear of the reefs, according to NOAA. Each signal has a range of 15-20 nautical miles.
In 1997, the hull of the Contship Houston tore through approximately 400 meters of the Florida reef, crushing and breaking corals along the way. As part of a federal program to preserve marine ecosystems in national marine sanctuaries, the parties that injure resources there are responsible for restoring and repairing the damage they do.
In the case of the Houston grounding, the vessel owner and insurer assisted with assessment and emergency restoration of the injured coral reef habitat.
Shortly after the grounding, a team of federal, state and private partners helped reattach more than 3,000 injured pieces of coral to the reef substrate, and remove or stabilize pieces of reef debris with epoxy to prevent ongoing injury to the reef and marine life. In addition, the vessel owners paid for and deployed flexible concrete mats to stabilize more than 7,650 square feet of reef substrate and also placed large boulders to provide three dimensional habitat for resident organisms.
Officials hope the navigational equipment deters similar accidents.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is one of 12 national marine sanctuaries administered by NOAA, which operates under the U.S. Department of Commerce. Together the 12 marine sanctuaries protect more than 18,000 square miles of important marine habitats, including coral reefs, kelp forests, intertidal, sandy beach and open ocean.
Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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