Florida Keys, Florida, USA
Florida Keys and southeast Florida mainland, USA
The Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) region includes the Dry Tortugas and Florida Keys, and extends up the southeast Florida coast to Martin County. This region is located at the convergence of the subtropical and temperate climate zones and the northernmost edge of shallow coral reef development. A warm water boundary current, the Gulf Stream, has a major influence on water temperature and import of flora and fauna, including marine larvae from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The project region includes shallow water coral reefs, colonized hardbottom, seagrass beds and mangrove communities. It is estimated that Florida’s shallow water coral reef habitats span 30,801 square kilometers. The focus of the FRRP has been on stony corals and shallow coral reefs.
The FRRP region has experienced several significant disturbances during the last three decades, including the Diadema sea urchin die-off of 1984, the 1997-1998 and 2005 bleaching events, and hurricanes including four named storms in 2005. The chronic stresses that challenge reefs of South Florida include climate change (i.e., warming seas, coral bleaching, disease and acidification); eutrophication from inadequate wastewater and storm water management systems; coastal development; overfishing; destructive fishing practices; boat groundings; anchor damage and diver impacts.
The Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) is a multi-year effort to develop management approaches and tools to cope with climate change and other stresses on South Florida’s coral reefs. The program started in 2004 after creation of a Memorandum of Agreement, to facilitate sharing knowledge and best practices for resilience-based management among the State of Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Nature Conservancy is coordinating the FRRP in conjunction with these three agencies and a Steering Committee of reef managers, scientists, reef user-group representatives and other conservation groups.
The program is designed to improve understanding of reef health in the region, and to identify factors that influence the long-term resilience of corals, reefs and the entire marine ecosystem. With this knowledge in hand, coral reef managers and users can work toward resilience-based management strategies that maximize the benefits of healthy reefs, while seeking to improve conditions of less healthy reefs. Ultimately, the FRRP seeks to improve ecological conditions of Florida’s reefs, economic sustainability of reef-dependent commercial enterprises, and continued recreational use of reef resources.
A focal area of the program has been filling spatial and temporal information gaps for stony coral bleaching and other bioindicator monitoring data. The first step in this process was characterization of the >400 km long reef tract from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas into 22 unique reef zones. This created a spatial framework within which a Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) scheme could be developed. The DRM is focused initially on coral bleaching, but is adaptable to detect and capture responses to other forms of disturbance.
Disturbance Response Monitoring
The Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) effort consists of a probabilistic sampling design and a stony coral condition monitoring protocol, implemented during peak thermal stress across the entire South Florida reef tract that extends from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas.
Each summer since 2005, up to 13 teams from federal, state, and local government agencies, non-profit organizations, and universities have completed surveys across the entire South Florida reef tract within a six to eight week period. The field methodology calls for two independent 1x10m belt transects randomly placed within a 200x200m sampling site. The FRRP approach is a probabilistic survey design using randomized two-stage stratification appropriate for population census and prevalence. The primary sampling unit is a ‘site’ defined as a 200 m x 200 m cell and the secondary sampling unit is a ‘transect’ defined as 1m x 10m belt transect. At a minimum, the survey design calls for two sites per reef ‘stratum’ and two replicate transects per site. Within each transect, four main parameters are recorded for each stony coral colony >4cm: 1) Species, 2) percent dead tissue, both recent and old mortality, 3) size, 4) condition including disease presence and bleaching.
More sites are allocated to higher variability strata such as patch reefs. The strata have been developed and refined over the past six years and are based on sub-regional divisions, cross shelf divisions, habitat type, and bathymetry. This stratification framework continues to be revisited each year and is being iteratively improved to more accurately describe how reef community types are organized. This approach provides detailed information on the coral population’s size-frequency, size structure, and bleaching prevalence. We are now analyzing coral demographics, (e.g., size and density), to better understand and identify resilient areas.
An online data entry system was also developed to help streamline the data management process. Surveyors log on to a website and enter data directly into an Access database. Key stroke errors, omissions, and other common mistakes are automatically returned to the surveyor for correction. Preprogrammed, automated analyses of specific data parameters (e.g., bleaching prevalence by zone) make reporting on results fast and simple, so reef managers and others can respond as necessary.
From 2005 to 2010, 1186 surveys were completed. Results from these six years of surveys show spatial and temporal patterns in coral bleaching and colony size frequency distribution, indicating that some reef areas or coral species may be more resilient to stress than others. Minor to moderate bleaching occurred within varying reef areas in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. While the causes of this variability remain poorly quantified, projected increases in coral bleaching due to climate change makes identification of these resilient reef areas and species important for long-term coral reef conservation and future management strategies.
2010 Cold Water Event
Following extreme cold temperatures in early January 2010, the Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) partners initiated a Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) effort to determine the extent of the impact on stony corals in South Florida. Survey sites were randomly selected from a pool of 2005-2009 DRM sites. High resolution sea surface temperature data provided by the University of South Florida was used to further stratify the sample design between sites that experienced temperatures at or below the lethal limit for stony corals (59 degrees) and sites and that did not experience lethally cold conditions.
From January 25 through February 12, 2010 78 sites were surveyed across the Florida Reef Tract from the Lower Keys to Martin County by 31 surveyors from 13 organizations. The impact of the cold water was very spatially explicit. The areas that sustained the greatest impact were the inshore and mid channel zones from Summerland Key in the lower Keys through Biscayne National Park. Forereef zones region-wide, reefs west of Summerland Key and reefs north of Biscayne National Park were much less affected. Contrary to warm water induced coral bleaching events, the main effect on the stony corals was direct mortality with low levels of bleaching. From frequent observations on specific corals during the event, the corals would generally pale for a day, then die, with mortality occurring across all species.
- Success of this project was highly dependent on the collaboration and contributions of many different agencies and institutions. The scale of the survey was so great that it would not have happened without collaboration. This has also resulted in a continued high level of commitment from the organizations involved.
- Identifying supplementary funding to allow different organizations that had staff and expertise, but lacked the funds, was critical. This enabled a broad spectrum of institutional stakeholders to contribute.
- In the first year, the team was able to demonstrate that an undertaking of this scale was possible and that there was a broad institutional commitment. The success of this pilot effort helped attract additional partners who had initially questioned the feasibility of conducting such large-scale surveys.
- It was important to develop a simple protocol so that surveys could be completed rapidly during the period of peak bleaching occurrence; so that minimal training was required; and so that the resulting data set was consistent.
- It was important at the beginning to agree on the scale, sampling goals, and protocol, so that the process was clear to participants.
- It was important to continue surveys each year regardless of the level of coral bleaching to keep surveyors up to date with the methodology in case of unexpected disturbances (e.g. 2010 cold water event). This also keeps the survey work in team members' annual workplans and budgets, facilitating their ongoing participation.
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection—Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—Coral Reef Conservation Program
- Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative—State Wildlife Grant
- Darden Restaurants Foundation
- Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd—Ocean Fund
- Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation
- Peacock Foundation Inc.
Director, Coastal and Marine Resilience
The Nature Conservancy
PO Box 420237
Summerland FL 33042
Mote Marine Laboratory
Tropical Research Laboratory
24244 Overseas Highway,
Summerland Key, FL 33042
Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Biscayne Bay Environmental Center
1277 NE 79th Street Causeway
Miami, FL 33138
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
John Pennekamp State Park
P.O. Box 1052
Islamorada, FL 33036
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Jamie A. Monty Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Office of Coastal & Aquatic Managed Areas
Southeast Florida Aquatic Preserves Field Office
3300 Lewis Street Ft. Pierce, FL, 34981
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)t
Division of Habitat and Species Conservation
South Regional Office
8535 Northlake Blvd.
West Palm Beach, FL 33412
South Regional Laboratory
Marathon, FL 33050
Department of Planning and Environmental Protection
218 S.W. 1st Avenue
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301
Miami Dade County
Dept. of Environmental Resources Mgmt.
Restoration and Enhancement Section
701 NW 1st Court
Miami, FL 33136
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
33 East Quay Road
Key West, FL 33040
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
4600 Rickenbacker Cswy.
Miami, FL 33149
Nova Southeastern University
National Coral Reef Institute
Nova Southeastern Univ. Oceanographic Center
8000 N. Ocean Dr.
Dania Beach, FL 33004
Florida Institute of Technology
150 West University Boulevard
Melbourne, FL 32901-6988
National Park Service
Biscayne National Park
9700 SW 328th St
Homestead, FL 33033-5634
National Park Service
Dry Tortugas National Park
40001 State Road 9336 (mail)
Homestead, FL 33034
Website of the Florida Reef Resilience Program