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"Bringing It Back" in March 2020 with the Coral Chronicles


During this month’s Sips and Science, we hosted Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Research Coordinator Andy Bruckner give a presentation on Mission: Iconic Reefs. Mission Iconic: Reef is a project which outlines a plan to restore coral reefs on the Florida Reef Tract.

The project plans to restore seven well-known reef sites along the Florida Keys. These sites were healthy and home to an abundance of marine line in the 1970s, but today are nearly gone due to climate change, local stressors, and heavy recreational use.

CRF™ Restoration Program Manager Jessica Levy (left) with FKNMS Research Coordinator Andy Bruckner (right) at Sips and Science in February 2020. © Coral Restoration Foundation™

Mission: Iconic Reefs is a 15 year effort with the goal to restore the current 2% coral cover we see on these reefs to 25% coral cover. Once the coral cover reaches 15%, researchers have estimated that the reef will be self-sustainable.

Overall, the estimated budget for this project is $100 million, which is just a drop in the bucket compared to the money spent for sand maintenance on many of Florida's beaches. If we restore these reefs, they will provide a natural, sturdy barrier for beaches and shorelines.

“The only way this is going to be successful is through multiple partnerships and the collaboration between state and local agencies and organizations." said Any Bruckner, FKNMS Research Coordinator.

Many organizations are involved in this project and restoration of the reef is just a part of it. Education is a necessary part of this project's success as well. With public education and involvement, this project will receive the support required for its success.

Attendees at Sips and Science in February 2020. © Coral Restoration Foundation™

Along with corals, herbivorous invertebrates, and fish are needed to help remove algal growth that can out-compete corals and their spawn. In the 1980s, a mass die off of a keystone species called Diadema (long-spined black urchin) occurred which only set back the corals even further. But with Mission: Iconic Reefs, there is hope for our precious marine ecosystem.


Since 2007, Coral Restoration Foundation™ has outplanted over 100,000 corals along the Florida Reef Tract. Just in 2019, we returned 32,000 corals to the reef. While these numbers are substantial for our restoration plan, we're planning to scale up for greater recovery. That's why in 2020, we've decided to ramp up our restoration efforts even further.

Staghorn outplants. © Coral Restoration Foundation™

Previously, Coral Restoration Foundation™ has out planted staghorn, elkhorn, and boulder corals in clusters of 7-10. Outplanting in these clusters encourages fusion. Once fused, the corals become one big colony and form a thicket which allows them to start the process of natural recovery.

Recently, in response to the rapid degradation of our reefs, we have started to outplant corals in clusters of 50. By doing so, we have a greater chance of reaching ecosystem-level recovery, which is necessary for saving the Florida Reef Tract, our only barrier reef in the North America.

Elkhorn outplants. © Coral Restoration Foundation™

These efforts of modifying our outplanting techniques coincides with the goals outlined in Mission: Iconic Reefs. Outplanting corals in larger clusters means that we will be one step closer to reaching the goal of restoring 93,000 square meters of the Florida Reef Tract and obtaining a self-sustaining ecosystem once again.


"Bringing It Back" Editorial Interns

Jim has always found happiness in the ocean. Starting with family vacations being the last one out of the water to the point where his Dad had to yell “shark!” to get him out of the water. Jim has been diving since he was 13 years old and knew he wanted to have a life involved with the ocean. Jim graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio with a degree in Biology and a specialization in marine science. Jim was involved in the BGSU marine laboratory and internships with SECORE (Sexual Coral Reproduction). Once Jim saw his first coral spawn and how so many organisms appreciated and revolved around corals he was hooked. Jim continued to work with SECORE to continue the excitement for two more workshops. He also broadened his spectrum volunteering with the Smithsonian Institution looking at the effects of climate change on the Gulf of Maine. Seeing how so many species are affected by climate change in cold and warm water made him want to pursue marine conservation. After school, Jim worked in bleacher construction but knew he wanted to make a positive difference in planetary ecology and found CRF™. Jim is very excited and eager to be a part of CRF™ and its mission to restore coral reefs.

Ashton has been mesmerized by the ocean since she can remember. She visited the beach for the first time when she was six months old and has since spent countless summer days on Alabama and Florida’s coasts. It wasn’t until she visited the Hawaiian Islands that she realized the condition the coral reefs were in – appalled to find dead coral rubble, drained of almost all life. Unfortunately, as Ashton traveled to other tropical destinations she found the same thing -  bleached, diseased, algae-smothered, and dead coral. Ashton attended Auburn University and studied Conservation of Organismal Biology to begin her search for answers to this crisis. While at Auburn, she completed field and lab-based research focusing on marine biology. She joined Operation Wallacea during the summer of 2018 and completed field research on the monitoring methods of coral reefs at Akumal Bay, Mexico with hopes to find the quickest and most efficient way to monitor reefs on a global scale. In 2019, Ashton completed research in Dr. Nanette Chadwick’s lab on the major modes and rates of clonal replication of the corallimorpharian, Ricordia florida. As a new graduate, Ashton is ecstatic to be an intern with CRF™;  fulfilling her dream of restoring the coral reefs and educating the public about marine conservation.

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