Hurricane Georges impact on Keys reefs

Reef Relief reef at
Wed Oct 7 15:56:23 EDT 1998

Reef Relief teams have assessed coral reefs in the Key West area
following Hurricane Georges.  Sand Key, Rock Key, and Western Sambo
reefs have all been heavily damaged by the hurricane and reports from
surveys conducted by sanctuary staff at other sites in the Keys indicate
that reefs in the Middle and Upper Keys have also sustained tremendous
damage.  Up to 90% of the acropora palmata at Looe Key National Marine
Sanctuary has been damaged by the storm.  Massive pillar corals at Upper
Keys reefs are reportedly overturned.  Researchers are having difficulty
even finding their survey sites in the Lower Keys due to the massive
removal of coral formations; some grounding sites are unidentifiable for
ongoing restoration work.

The Reef Relief Coral Nursery Project at Western Sambo Reef was
virtually eliminated by the storm surges which battered the branching
corals into thousands of small fragments on the ocean floor.  The coral
reef has been scoured in many places--even the algae is missing. 
Substrata of ancient corals is now uncovered, surrounded by many coral
fragments and overturned coralheads.  

Prior to the storm, many of these corals were experiencing a return of
last year's extensive coral bleaching.  For the past few years, these
coral reefs have been attacked by various diseases that have been first
observed (in many cases) and monitored as part of the Reef Relief Coral
Photo Monitoring Survey.  The health and vitality of Keys reefs are
seriously compromised.  Sedimentation stirred up by the storm has
reduced visibility.  Some of the corals that usually feed at night are
openly feeding during the day in response to the lack of light due to
the cloudy water.  Corals require clear, clean, nutrient-free waters to

Director of Marine Projects Craig Quirolo will be leading a team to take
immediate action to rebuild the coral nursery at Western Sambo Reef. The
method employed stabilizes larger fragments of acropora palmata by
securing them to concrete pads that are then secured to the ocean
bottom.  This design by Harold Hudson of the Florida Keys National
Marine Sanctuary prevents the fragments from being covered in sediment
and allows them to be elevated in a manner that will allow regrowth,
provided other conditions make this possible.  Quick setting epoxy will
be used to secure the fragments to the concrete pads and volunteers are
encouraged to get involved.  Our window of opportunity is limited to the
next few weeks while the coral fragments are still viable.  If possible,
the program may be expanded to other areas of the reef.  The Caribbean
is one of the only areas of the world where acropora palmata grows, thus
our interest in saving some of those in the Keys. 

DeeVon Quirolo, Reef Relief (305) 294-3100

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