Photo credit: K Grif / Shutterstock
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are set to restore nearly 3 million square feet of the Florida Reef Tract with plans to raise nearly $ 100 million to restore seven reef sites corals off the Florida Keys. It is one of the biggest strategies ever to be found in coral restoration, NOAA officials said in an announcement on Dec. 9. Officials also said they would support the effort, which will take several decades, and work with partners to secure public and private funding for the project.
Coral cover in the Keys has been reduced since the 1970s by tropical cyclones, heat-induced coral bleaching, cold snaps and disease events.
Since 2004, restoration efforts have been underway, involving the cultivation and transplantation of corals for the Keys. Some of these coral reefs are Carysford Reef, Horseshoe Reef, Cheeca Rocks, Sombrero Reef, Newfound Harbor, Looe Key Reef, and Eastern Dry Rocks. NOAA officials said the sites represent a diversity of habitats that support a variety of human uses, span the entire geographic range of the Florida Keys, and show a high possibility of success.
“We have identified iconic reefs here in the Keys that we want to help restore,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman. “These reefs have suffered from a number of threats for years, as have reefs around the world.”
Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) has been the primary reason for the restoration efforts. SCTLD is a new fatal disease first reported off the coast of Miami in 2014. The cause of the disease is unknown and has been found in more than 20 species of coral in the Caribbean, Jamaica, the Mexican Caribbean, Saint -Martin and more recently Saint-Thomas, USVI and the Dominican Republic. The disease causes corals to have “mottled” lesions and die fairly quickly within weeks to months.
Mission: Iconic Reefs, as the project is called, has 2 phases in order to incorporate a phased implementation over the next 20 years. The first phase takes around 10 years and involves restoring various fast growing corals and species that have not been affected by the current epidemic of coral tissue loss. The phase also involves the incorporation of resilient corals from other slower growing species. Once the phase is over, scientists must eliminate harmful species like algae and snails, and reintroduce sea urchins and crabs to help keep the reefs clean and healthy.
Phase 2 will focus on introducing slower growing coral species to healthy reefs. These slower growing species spread from colonies that survived or were saved from bleaching and disease. The aim is for coral reefs to reach a level of self-sufficiency, after diversity and natural ecological function have been reintroduced.
Restoration efforts are made possible by government and environmental agencies such as the State of Florida, the Coral Restoration Foundation, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, the Florida Aquarium, The Nature Conservancy, Reef Renewal, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.
NOAA officials say they have even received inquiries from government leaders asking what can be done to help restore the reefs to safety.
Melissa’s writing career began over 20 years ago. Today, she lives in South Florida with her husband and two boys.