Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
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Spotfin Butterflyfish Visiting Your Sanctuary

Ocean Etiquette

Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary is a national resource that belongs to all of us. It encompasses some of the finest examples of southeastern live-bottom habitat to be found anywhere. By observing Ocean Etiquette when you visit the Sanctuary, or any other underwater environment, you can help maintain this habitat for the future.

Store Your Anchor

It is against regulations to anchor anywhere in Gray's Reef. Dropping an anchor on a live-bottom area can not only damage the sponges and soft coral that live there, it can also break apart the very rock that supports the invertebrate community. The damage to the rock cannot be repaired; the sponges may or may not grow back. If they do grow back it will take many years. Many of the coral and sponges at Gray's Reef are living at extreme edges of their ranges and are easily stressed. Keep your anchor in your boat except in the case of an emergency.

Stash Your Trash

You can help keep the sanctuary beautiful by stowing your trash for disposal in port, not tossing it in the ocean. It is also against regulations to deposit anything in the sanctuary except fish, fish parts, bait, or chumming materials. Pick up any plastic you see floating in the water. Birds, fish, mammals, and sea turtles can get entangled in plastic items or mistake them for food. Sea birds, sea turtles and marine mammals can get entangled in monofilament line, too - do not discard it in the water. Participate in beach clean-ups and leave the beach clean after your visit. Please help remove plastics from the ocean!

Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles

It is possible that you will encounter a highly endangered North Atlantic right whale when visiting Gray's Reef; the Sanctuary is near the only known calving ground for the whales and near an area designated as critical habitat. Federal rules require that you get no closer to a whale than 500 yards - the length of five football fields.

Both bottlenose and spotted dolphin are seen in the Sanctuary. To report a whale sighting or to report an injured or distressed whale, dolphin or sea turtle, call the Georgia Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-272-8363.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends you stay at least 100 yards away from all animals, whether in the water or on shore. In addition, please do not feed marine mammals. It could be dangerous to you and is not healthy for the animals.

Loggerhead sea turtles are frequently seen resting and foraging at Gray's Reef; other sea turtle species sometimes pass through the sanctuary. It is illegal to harm or harass these animals. Divers need to resist the temptation of touching or prodding a resting loggerhead; never try to hitch a ride on a sea turtle. And remember, all sea turtles can mistake floating plastic for food - stash your trash!

Spills and Discharges

Fish, birds, and mammals are especially sensitive to even small amounts of toxic compounds in oil, fuel, and other petroleum products. You can help protect fish and wildlife by preventing fuel spills and bilge oil discharge. Discharging anything except vessel cooling water and effluent from marine sanitation devices is against Gray's Reef regulations. Put absorbent pads in your bilge and wipe up any spills quickly. Use absorbent pads, not detergents to clean spills. Report spills you see to the Coast Guard's National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

Watch Out for Divers

The Sanctuary belongs to everyone. Recreational anglers share the waters with both recreational and working divers. Sometime Sanctuary staff and visiting scientists conduct dive operations. Be on the lookout for boats flying dive flags - a red flag with a white bar at an angle - and keep at least 100 yards - the length of a football field away.


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