Florida Keys reef destruction.

Coral Health and Monitoring Program coral at coral.AOML.ERL.GOV
Sat Oct 7 22:34:40 EDT 1995

John Ogden of the Florida Institute of Oceanography has asked that we 
forward this to the coral-list.  



October 17, 1995 


A team of U.S. and Australian scientists have discovered extensive 
sediment damage on the deep coral reefs off Long Key in the middle Florida 
Keys.  The Keyswide Coral Reef Expeditionary Team discovered large brain 
and star corals at depths below 50 feet that had been growing luxuriantly 
in the area of Tennessee Reef for at least 100 years.  Many of these 
corals were partially or completely dead, recently smothered by fine 
sediments falling on the reef from the shallows.  While the source of the 
sediments has not been identified, it is suspected that the large plumes 
of cloudy water from Florida Bay have increased sediment loads to lethal 
levels.  By contrast, the deep reefs of Alligator Reef, just a few miles 
to the north and more isolated from Florida Bay water, still had 
spectacular coral growth.  

Local residents and scientists have long known that Florida Bay waters 
move to the southeast through the major passes between the Keys and over 
the reefs of the middle Keys.  Yet large corals have obviously thrived 
there in times past.  What recent changes in Florida Bay are now killing 
our reefs?  Beginning in 1987, when large areas of seagrass died in 
Florida Bay, scientists suspected that decades of water management changed 
conditions in the Bay.  Those changes have accelerated, and today water 
inimical to coral growth regularly washes over offshore areas of the 
Middle Keys.  As part of the regional plan to restore the Everglades, the 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning a major effort to improve the 
quantity and quality of water delivery to the ecosystems of the Everglades 
and in Florida Bay.  

Documenting recent changes along the Florida Reef Tract and developing 
management priorities are major goals of the Management Plan of the 
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  The Plan is currently under 
public review.  The Keyswide Coral Reef Expedition, which is part of the 
ecological assessment program, is supported by the Sanctuary, the Munson 
Foundation, the NOAA National Undersea Research Program at the University 
of North Carolina at Wilmington, the Harbor Branch Oceanographic 
Institution, and the Florida Institute of Oceanography.  Dr. Richard 
Aronson, of Alabama's Dauphin Island Sea Lab is Chief Scientist of the 
Expeditionary Team.  "Data from the Expedition will provide the first 
ecological picture of the entire Reef Tract, from Fowey Rocks in the north 
to the Dry Tortugas in the southwest.  Our studies will allow us to 
identify the conditions that foster healthy reefs and the influences that 
degrade and destroy reefs," Aronson said.  

Other participants include scientists from institutions in Florida, North 
Carolina and Alabama, as well as the Reef Survey Team from the Australian 
Institute of Marine Science.  Dr. Terry Done Australian team leader said 
that the Expedition "provides a unique opportunity to understand the 
striking parallels between the Great Barrier Reef and the Florida Reef 
Tract."  A key issue for both countries is understanding the impact of 
sewage and land use practices on the long-term health of coral reefs.  The 
participating scientists anticipate major international cooperative 
efforts to share data and information in order to solve these problems.  

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