Several coral reefs in the Florida Keys could have a new life.
In collaboration with state and local partners, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week launched a new strategy to restore and preserve seven coral reef sites in the Florida Keys, as part of a decades-long effort to revitalize the region’s highly diverse and economically valuable marine ecosystem.
The project, Mission: Iconic reefs, calls for the restoration of nearly 3 million square feet (278,709 square meters) of the Florida Reef Zone, the size of 52 American football fields, one of the biggest strategies ever in coral restoration. Over the next year and beyond, NOAA will support this effort and work with external partners to secure additional public and private funds.
According to act NOAA Administrator Neil jacobs:
“NOAA is fundamentally changing its approach to restoring coral reefs by proactively intervening to restore reef health and improve ecological function. Bold and decisive action has the very real potential to save one of the world’s largest and most economically important reef ecosystems before it’s too late.
Over the past 15 years, pioneering restoration efforts involving the growth and transplantation of corals have proven successful in the Florida Keys, setting the stage for this new large-scale restoration effort on seven reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: Carysfort Reef, Horseshoe Reef, Cheeca Rocks, Sombrero Reef, Port de Newfound, Looe Key Reef, and Eastern dry rocks.
These sites represent a diversity of habitats, support a variety of human uses, span the geographic extent of the Florida Keys, and show a high probability of success, according to NOAA.
The restoration effort will incorporate a phased implementation approach over the next 20 years on the seven reefs. The first phase, designed to increase coral cover by 2 to 15 percent over 10 years, will focus on restoration elk horn and staghorn corals, fast growing species that have not been affected by the current epidemic of stony coral tissue loss disease, as well as starting to incorporate resilient corals from other slower growing species. At these sites, scientists will eliminate harmful and invasive species like algae and snails, and reintroduce sea urchins and crabs to help keep the reefs clean and healthy.
The second phase, which is designed to return the reef to its historic 25 percent coral cover, will focus on adding slower-growing fundamental coral species propagated from colonies that survived or were rescued from bleaching. and disease events. The aim is to restore the diversity and ecological function of the reefs by reducing the coral cover at the target reef sites to a level of self-sufficiency.
Collaboration between federal and state agencies, leading coral reef experts, local restoration practitioners and the Florida Keys community will be the key to the success of this ambitious effort. Partners include the State of Florida, Coral Restoration Foundation, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, the Florida Aquarium, the Nature conservation, Reef renewal and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.
For more information, visit the NOAA website.