NOAA 03-456
Contact: Ben Sherman
NOAA News Releases 2003
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Volunteer divers from two Savannah-area SCUBA clubs helped remove debris from Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) this past weekend. The underwater clean-up was part of the International Coastal Cleanup and part of Coast Weeks, a two-week long statewide celebration of all things coastal in Georgia. The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) manages the sanctuary.

The volunteer divers at the sanctuary picked up an assortment of material including fishing line, fishing lures and cans. The debris was cataloged and will be reported to the national Coastal Cleanup Day database. The divers were from Southeast SCUBA and Savannah SCUBA. Another group of volunteer divers is scheduled to clean another section of the sanctuary on Oct. 18.

“The underwater reef clean up effort is an excellent way for citizens, particularly recreational divers, to get involved in protecting their sanctuary,” said GRNMS Manager Reed Bohne.

Last year, according to the Ocean Conservancy, 179 people picked up 5,160 pounds of debris from along 16 miles of Georgia coastline. The clean-up at Gray’s Reef is the only underwater clean-up effort in Georgia.

Marine debris in the oceans and watersheds is dangerous to humans and animals, causes economic impacts, and is unsightly. To a sea turtle, a floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish meal. Fishing line entangles marine mammals and birds, and also damages fishing gear, increasing the cost of marine-based products. Years of Coastal Cleanup Day data has revealed 60 percent of beach debris originates from inland sources of pollution such as cigarette butts and plastic drink bottles. This debris washes down storm drains directly to our oceans.

GRNMS was designated as a national marine sanctuary in 1981. It contains one of the largest near-shore, live-bottom reefs off the Southeastern United States, encompassing approximately 17 square nautical miles. The sanctuary supports an abundant reef fish and invertebrate community. Loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species, use Gray’s Reef year-round for foraging and resting. The reef rests within the known winter calving ground for the highly endangered northern right whale.

Gray’s Reef is part of the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) that seeks to increase the public awareness of America's maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. In addition, the NMSP is conducting a sanctuary designation process to incorporate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve into the national sanctuary system.

NOAA's National Ocean Service manages the NMSP and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation's coasts and oceans. The National Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

The Commerce Department's NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.

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Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary: