JUST ANNOUNCED: MISSION: ICONIC REEFS
Over the last 50 years, the Florida Reef Tract has dwindled from historical coral coverage ranging from 25-40 percent to two percent due to compounding threats such as hurricanes, heat-induced coral bleaching, pollution, anchor drags, and disease. This tragic decline of our nation’s only barrier reef greatly affects the local economy, as healthy coral reefs generate billions of dollars in recreation and tourism.
© Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Over the past 12 years, CRF™ has been at the forefront of restoration efforts which include successfully growing and transplanting corals onto the Florida Reef Tract . However, we acknowledge that in order to restore our reefs, we must take massive action now. This is why we’re partnering with NOAA, federal and state agencies, leading coral reef experts, local restoration practitioners, and aquariums in addition to other collaborators to preserve and restore seven diverse reefs in the Florida Keys as part of a 20 year, 100 million dollar project.
Mission: Iconic Reefs plans to restore nearly three million square feet of the Florida Reef Tract, about the size of 52 football fields, making it one of the largest coral restoration strategies ever proposed.
The seven iconic reef sites include Carysfort Reef, Horseshoe Reef, Cheeca Rocks, Sombrero Reef, Newfound Harbor, Looe Key Reef, and Eastern Dry Rocks. These sites represent diverse habitats and have shown a high success rate with previous restoration efforts.
The restoration efforts included in this plan are already under way, but Mission: Iconic Reefs spans decades using a phased restoration approach. Phase 1 includes removing invasive species and other competitors that prevent corals from settling onto the reef as well as reintroducing native species, such as long-spined sea urchins and Caribbean king crab, which eat algae that would otherwise smother corals. It is imperative to plant fast-growing species, such as elkhorn coral, that are not susceptible to stony coral tissue loss disease to provide a habitat for species living on the reefs. Additionally, biodiversity is key to a healthy, balanced ecosystem. By restoring species like star, brain, pillar, and staghorn coral, we hope to restore coral coverage from a dismal two percent to 15 percent across the seven sites over Phase 1.
Carysfort Reef. © Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
The second phase includes large-scale planting of the coral species mentioned above, while also introducing small, slower-growing stony species such as finger coral and blade coral. These species have been propagated from wild colonies that have survived threats such as disease and bleaching events. By the end of Phase 2, our goal is to restore the reef sites to an average of 25 percent coral coverage, which is necessary to support a healthy ecosystem, to achieve the overarching goal of returning reef sites to self-sustaining levels.
IN COLD WATER
As we begin to feel a cool breeze along the shore, signaling the start of the winter season, we trade in our shorts and rash guards for sweaters and wetsuits. It's also important that we remember to provide our corals with warmth as ocean temperatures begin to drop! While many people are aware that warmer waters can lead to coral bleaching, cold temperatures can be just as devastating to corals. For optimal growth, corals need to be in water temperatures ranging from 73-84°F. So far this season, we have already reached bottom temperatures of 73°F in our nurseries.
© Coral Restoration Foundation™
Our coral trees were designed so that corals can grow at least twice as fast as other coral growing techniques. One element of this design includes a pulley system that allows the trees to be raised or lowered in the water column when temperatures decrease or increase, respectively. Recently, we have begun raising trees in sections of each nursery so that corals can continue to grow quickly over the winter season. With 700 trees spread throughout our seven nurseries, this is no small task!
Once the pulley system has been cleared of algae and bivalves, our restoration team and interns raise the trees higher in the water column so the corals do not experience the lower water temperatures found beneath the thermocline.
Now that the corals are in comfortable temperatures, we will continue maintaining our nurseries, with hopes to return these corals to the reef come 2020!
"Bringing It Back" Editorial Intern
Krista is from Quincy, Massachusetts and is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina Wilmington with degrees in Marine Biology and Psychology as well as a minor in Neuroscience. She grew up on the ocean and first got the conservation bug when she watched as horseshoe crabs and seagrass beds near her home began to disappear. Throughout her undergraduate career, she took an interest in animal behavior and neurobiology and most recently conducted research in lifespan changes in the brains of sharks. She has worked closely with the New England Aquarium as an aquarist intern and conservation volunteer, as well as the National Estuarine Research Reserve in Homer, Alaska studying the foraging ecology of sea otters. In terms of diving, she got certified in high school but attributes her passion for the sport to her internship with the Boston Sea Rovers. Most recently, she obtained her PADI Divemaster certification as well as AAUS scientific diver and was proud to serve as the President of her university’s SCUBA Club. Krista is overjoyed to finally combine her passions of marine conservation, diving, and outreach to make lasting impacts on the local reef systems through her internship with the Coral Restoration Foundation™!