Just 150 pieces of antler coral planted off the coast of Florida could give new hope to the state’s endangered reefs.
A boat carrying these fragments set sail for Jupiter on Tuesday afternoon, marking the beginning of a study of coral temperature tolerance in the northern reef tract of Florida.
“This is the farthest north where this species has been planted,” said Shelby Thomas, founder and CEO of the Ocean Rescue Alliance. “It will really help us understand more in the future if this is a good place to expand our coral recovery efforts in Florida and see if the species can survive further north.”
Ocean Rescue Alliance is a non-profit organization for the protection and restoration of the marine environment, which works in the restoration of coral and the creation of artificial reefs. It operates south to the Keys and now north to Jupiter.
They are working with the University of Miami to conduct research on coral tolerance to warmer water. The team will monitor the corals and collect tissue samples on a monthly basis. They are also working with Palm Beach County and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission in the planting effort.
Rob Bremer, a master’s student at the University of Miami, is working on this project with the Ocean Rescue Alliance. He said the deterioration of corals off the coast of Florida makes these types of research necessary.
“We lose a lot of coral every year, and the rate of reproduction is also declining, which is a pretty scary sign,” Bremer said. “So between that and SCTLD [stony coral tissue loss disease] killing tons of corals a year … doesn’t look very good for corals in Florida or anywhere else in the world. “
According to a study published by the University of Florida, climate change, human stressors and rocky coral tissue loss disease have significantly reduced the presence of coral corals in Southeast Florida. A 2020 study found that coral populations have declined by more than 90% since the 1970s. As reindeer coral fluctuates in its usual habitats in the Caribbean and southeastern Florida, Bremer and Thomas are testing how well it can survive on the edge of its northernmost range.
“This project has great potential to prove that corals can expand beyond their natural habitats or habitat ranges,” Bremer said. “If these corals survive and continue to prosper as they are, I think assisted migration to the north … could be very much included in our recovery focuses.”
The Ocean Rescue Alliance is also planting artificial reefs through its 1000 Mermaids project, which aims to eventually place 1,000 artificial reefs in Florida waters in the form of mermaid sculptures. Thomas calls this project “eco-art”, creating a habitat for marine life and a place for fishermen and divers. Currently, the largest artificial reef consists of 35 structures with mermaids near West Palm Beach.
“In fact, we can make a sculpture of any face or logo and turn them into artificial ones riff which creates a habitat for fish and can help create a seabed structure, Thomas said. All of our sculptures still have a habitat component, so they are not just sculptures that do not add any value to the environment.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, artificial reefs can have a positive environmental impact when done properly. They can divert human traffic from natural reefs and provide shelter for fish and other species in need of physical habitat. However, they could potentially provide a habitat for invasive species or damage natural habitats.
“I’m usually a fan of artificial reefs,” Bremer said. “I think one of the greatest things they can do is raise awareness of real reefs and natural beauty alone. They can also draw a lot of pressure from diving from natural reefs.
This July, the Ocean Rescue Alliance plans to plant 30,000 corals near Hollywood.
“This will really lead to a completely different variety of research to restore coral and community involvement“Thomas said.” So we are really looking forward to expanding our initiatives and public engagement. “
Bremer agreed public engagement it may become increasingly important in conservation efforts.
“At the end of the day, we will probably never be able to do enough as scientists to completely reverse the situation against global warming and other anthropogenic factors,” he said. “So I think we as a scientific community also need to become perhaps rounder than we are used to, and work on engaging the public and hearing our voices in politics as well.
2022 South Florida Sun Sentinel.
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