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  • Writer's pictureJessica Leigh Lebos

The Sublime Sanctuary Just Off The Coast

If you sailed 20 miles straight east off of Sapelo Island and gazed around the horizon, you would see nothing but a seamless view of water and sky. Sixty feet below the surface, however, there’s quite a party going on: A bottom landscape of rocky outcroppings and sandy sediment has played host to a dazzling array of marine flora, fish and the occasional massive sea turtle for more than 2 million years. Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary covers 22 square miles of the ocean floor reaching all the way to the Continental Shelf, one of the largest off the Eastern seaboard. But few Savannahians know of its riches.

Discovered in 1961 by University of Georgia marine biologist Milton “Sam” Gray, this busy spot was designated a National Marine Sanctuary in 1981 by President Jimmy Carter, protecting it from commercial fishing, oil drilling and other degrading exploits. Since then, it has become a shining example of oceanic conservation and a vital research hub for marine science.

That doesn’t mean Gray’s Reef is off-limits to everyone but scientists. Its managing body, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), permits recreational activity in the area, giving scuba divers the opportunity to catch a glimpse of sea squirts, tubeworms and other creatures in their natural habitat. Even if you opt to stay dry in your boat, you can still interact with the reef, casting out a line for the 200 species of fish that feed on the cornucopia of plankton life (the whiting and mackerel catches are reportedly outstanding).

Read the rest at Savannah Magazine.

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