Coral reefs around the world are under threat and in decline, but perhaps nowhere have the declines been so dramatic or as visible as those seen on Florida’s Coral Reef. From recent historical coverage of around 45%, Florida’s Coral Reef has now declined to an average of 2%-5% coral cover today. There are a number of causes including water quality, climate change, disease and changes in fish community structure. With these declines, we not only lose the beauty of these reefs, but also the economic and ecological benefits as well as the shoreline and infrastructure protection against storms.
However, there is hope. The recent advances in technologies and techniques along with the efforts of universities, non-profits, governments and public institutions like Frost Science are making a difference. Read on to learn more about the work being done and how to help.
100 Yards of Hope
As part of the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee’s Ocean to Everglades (O2E) environmental initiative, Frost Science teamed up with the University of Miami Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s Rescue a Reef program, Force Blue and NFL Green to out-plant 100 corals in waters adjacent to Rainbow Reef, in honor the 100th season of the NFL. This initiative includes restoring the wider ecosystem with sea urchins, sponges and other key organisms as well as removing invasive and intruding organisms, such as lionfish and palythoa.
This partnership, which began in June 2019, continues to join together military veterans, university students, environmentalists, corporate leaders and local volunteers in conservation efforts and will result in a major restoration of reef area directly off of Key Biscayne.
You can read more about 100 yards of hope on our blog.
Rescue A Reef
One of the key elements in restoring coral reefs is maintaining the nursery area that rears corals for future out planting. Frost Science works with the University of Miami to maintain an offshore nursery site using students and volunteers to raise thousands of corals to supply South Florida Reef restoration. In addition to raising the corals in the nursery, the program also studies genetics to determine the hardiest strains in relation to disease resistance, climate change and other factors.
Critically Endangered Pillar Coral Ark
One of the most endangered of all corals in the Caribbean are the massive Pillar corals, reaching upwards towards the surface like majestic skyscrapers. These corals are extremely slow-growing and prone to disease and have all but disappeared from Florida’s Coral Reef. To archive the genetic and provide opportunities for lab rearing and future out planting, Frost Science, along with other public aquariums and experts in coral husbandry are serving as “arks” to house remaining coral fragments and develop spawning and rearing techniques for these critically endangered species. The hope is that one day we will be able to transplant these corals and their offspring back out into the wild as part of a thriving ecosystem.
Diadema Sea Urchin Restoration
Sea urchins, once the bane of divers and snorkelers on the reef, are now a key missing component to a healthy reef ecosystem. Following a nearly complete mortality event that swept through the Caribbean in 1982, these important grazers have never recovered in Florida or many other parts of the region. From historical densities of 3-5 urchins per sq. meter, it is rare to see more than a single urchin on Florida’s Coral Reef today. Besides grazing on algae, which can inhibit coral settlement and growth, these urchins produced vast amounts of eggs and larvae, providing food for other reef organisms. Frost Science is working closely with the Florida Aquarium and SECORE Int. to spawn and rear these urchins in the lab, settle them and reintroduce them offshore. Experiments in the lab are also looking at coral-urchin associations and how they benefit each other.
Sponges are the great water filters of the ocean, with some species able to filter 10,000 times their internal volume every day! Their fine mesh-like structure allows them to filter particles down to the size of bacteria. Though some species are harvested for use in cosmetics and households, most are found in our bays and offshore reefs providing homes for other small organisms like lobsters and filtering the water 24 hours a day. However, they are also susceptible to storm damage and disease. As a result, Florida’s Coral Reef has seen significant declines in recent years. Frost Science is working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop new techniques in rearing and out-planting sponges as well as conducting research into the filtering capabilities of sponges related to coral disease.