Common Sea Fans (<em>Gorgonia ventilina</em>) are one of several species of sea fans found in southeast Florida. Sea fans are also classified as soft corals or gorgonians.

Common Sea Fans (Gorgonia ventilina) are one of several species of sea fans found in southeast Florida. Sea fans are also classified as soft corals or gorgonians.

Photo: Chantal Collier

Juvenile bluehead wrasses swim along the reef in Palm Beach.

Juvenile bluehead wrasses swim along the reef in Palm Beach.

Photo: Joe Marino


Southeast Florida Reef News

2011 Coral Bleaching Monitoring Underway

Christopher Boykin

FDEP CRCP staff collecting coral bleaching data.
FDEP CRCP staff collecting coral bleaching data.

In July 2011, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) staff participated in the annual training for the Florida Reef Resilience Program’s (FRRP) Coral Bleaching Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM). In August, staff partnered with FDEP Southeast District staff and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff to collect coral bleaching data in Palm Beach County, and will continue data collection in September in Miami-Dade County.

The FRRP is a collaborative partnership initiated in 2004 through discussions involving the State of Florida, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). The FRRP is designed to improve the understanding of reef health throughout the Florida Reef Tract, from the Dry Tortugas to the reefs off Martin County, and to identify factors that influence the long-term resilience of this marine ecosystem. Resilience is the ability of systems to absorb disturbances, to resist phase shifts and to regenerate and reorganize in order to maintain key functions and processes in a time span relevant to resource use and management activities. One way that reef managers gauge coral reef resilience is by monitoring the effects of disturbances to coral reefs. Since 2005, marine scientists from more than a dozen agencies, organizations and academic institutions throughout the 5 counties adjacent to the Florida Reef Tract have participated in the FRRP Coral Bleaching DRM to monitor the effects of coral bleaching.

Corals thrive because of a unique relationship between each coral polyp and single-celled algae, known as zooxanthellae, which live within the coral's tissues. Under normal conditions, zooxanthellae provide nutrition to the coral, help remove coral waste products and contribute to the production of calcium carbonate which corals need to build their skeletons. Zooxanthellae also provide corals with their vibrant colors. However, under conditions of increased stress, the coral-algal relationship is disrupted and zooxanthellae are released from coral tissues causing the coral to lose its color. The bright white coral skeleton is then visible through the tissue, making the corals appear 'bleached'. Bleached corals are still living and, if stressful conditions subside soon enough, zooxanthellae can repopulate their tissues and the corals can survive the bleaching event. However, prolonged stress and bleaching can lead to coral mortality. Bleaching typically occurs during the summer, when high temperatures and increased UV exposure associated with calm seas stress coral colonies.

Data is still being analyzed, but preliminary results indicate that the summer of 2011 was a mild year for coral bleaching in southeast Florida. The FRRP Coral Bleaching DRM serves as a model marine event response protocol, and in the future, FRRP partners hope to adapt the Coral Bleaching DRM to respond to other disturbances, such as blooms of the cyanobacteria, Lyngbya.

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