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

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Southeast Florida Reef News

Launch of the SEAFAN BleachWatch Program

Karen Bohnsack
NOAA Coral Fellow

Participants in the BleachWatch training classes learn the difference between healthy (left), paling (middle) and bleached (right) corals, and how to report their observations.
Participants in the BleachWatch training classes learn the difference between healthy (left), paling (middle) and bleached (right) corals, and how to report their observations.

In April, staff from Florida’s Coral Reef Conservation Program delivered the first two training sessions for Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN) BleachWatch, a new community-based coral reef monitoring program that is being coordinated in southeast Florida. The BleachWatch program was originally created by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in Australia.

Because the onset and severity of coral bleaching can vary by species, geographic location, and reef zone, it is very difficult to predict where or when it will occur. The BleachWatch Program was created to help detect the potential onset of mass coral bleaching events by combining climate and sea surface temperature data with field observations from a trained Observer Network of recreational, commercial, and scientific divers.

In 2005, the program was adapted by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) and Mote Marine Laboratory, who created the Florida Keys BleachWatch Program to act as an early warning network for coral bleaching within the FKNMS.  Through SEAFAN Bleachwatch, this early warning network is now being extended along the northern portion of the Florida Reef Tract, located off of mainland southeast Florida between the northern border of Biscayne National Park in Miami-Dade County and the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County.

Participants in the SEAFAN BleachWatch training sessions became the first members of the Observer Network that will help identify when and where bleaching is taking place by monitoring and reporting on the condition of the SE FL reefs during the summer months when the risk of bleaching is greatest. During the 1.5 hour training sessions, participants were taught about coral bleaching, the BleachWatch Early Warning Network, and how to properly assess coral condition, record observations, and submit reports. Divers were also provided with coral ID and bleaching example cards to use as a reference below and above the water. This Observer Network will be alerted when conditions favorable for bleaching are present, so that field data can be gathered before, as well as during and after, any coral bleaching events.

Information submitted by the Observer Network will be combined with weather and sea surface temperature data to produce an overview of current conditions in the region. These “Current Conditions Reports” will be distributed to the Observer Network, scientists, and reef managers monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly depending on the severity of the climate conditions and extent of coral bleaching observations.

For more information about SEAFAN BleachWatch, or if you are interested in organizing a training, please visit www.SEAFAN.net or email karen.bohnsack@dep.state.fl.us.



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