[Coral-List] Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary Research Questions

Alevizon, William Stephen alevizonws at cofc.edu
Sun Mar 22 22:30:30 EDT 2015

Hi Grace

The short answer to your working policy question, “How does science play a role in policy making regarding the preservation of the Florida Keys coral reefs?” is really moot in 2015.

In so far as a “living” coral reef is defined as a reef “dominated by living stony corals”, they do not exist any more as such in the Florida Keys.

As Ruzicka et al. (2013) and others have documented at numerous sites along the Florida Reef Tract, what were formerly stony coral-dominated reefs pre-1970 have now transitioned to reefs dominated by octocorals and sponges, and that trend seems likely to continue in the foreseeable future. Some are little more than eroding piles of coral rubble (see Phil Dustan’s excellent photos posted here earlier this month).

Of course, if one instead defines “coral reef” as a reef “built by stony corals”, regardless of it’s present condition (living or dead), then certainly the remains of such still exist today. At least you should make it clear which of these definitions you are using in your policy question, because “preserving” living coral reefs is a far different chore than preserving dead ones (whatever that might entail).

So, perhaps you could rephrase your working policy question to address either the “preservation” (protection?) of “Florida Keys sponge-gorgonian reefs” (which is what the Florida Reef tract is now composed of), or the (unlikely possibility) of “restoration of Florida Keys coral reefs”.

The “preservation” of living coral reefs in the Florida keys is no longer an option - that train left some time ago.

I would recommend the following as a useful overview in this regard, as it documents near-current conditions:

Ruzicka RR et al (2013). Temporal changes in benthic assemblages on Florida Keys reefs 11 years after the 1997/1998 El Niño. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 489:125–141

Good luck!

William S. Alevizon

Research Associate

Dept. of Biology

College of Charleston

58 Coming St.

Charleston,  S.C. 29424


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