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Because St Croix is strategically close to Puerto Rico, its endangered reefs will benefit in the future from intensified efforts by that country to protect the resources. Reefs off southwestern Puerto Rico, at a depth up to 500′ (152m) in an area of 12 miles (19km) were recently discovered as part of a US federally-funded mission on deep-water corals. Divers enrolled in a one-year training course to depths of up to 100 feet (31m) noticed the thriving reefs and large predators nearby.

The underwater landscape they found was populated by lettuce coral, the lace-like star coral, several species of sponges, groupers, snappers, and reef sharks. The reef’s existence means that struggling, shallow ecosystems in the U.S. Caribbean territory may have a better-than-believed chance at survival, because fish species thriving at a deeper level can help replenish stocks in more shallow reefs, said Richard Appeldoorn, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez, and Ernesto Diaz, director of Puerto Rico’s Coastal Zone Management Program.

The discovery comes as officials in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands seek to create the Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership, an endeavor that aims to better coordinate the use of coastal waters and the implementation of conservation programs. The two islands recently submitted a proposal for the partnership to NOAA.

Among the partnership’s proposed goals is the creation of a zoning map for waters surrounding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The map would designate certain areas for conservation, recreation or commercial purposes, Diaz said.

Read more at Google News (AP feed).