Southeast Florida
Reef Review

December 2020
Saving Massive Corals in the Coral ECA
By Kristin Anderson, Research Assistant
Nova Southeastern University's GIS and Spatial Ecology Lab, led by Dr. Brian Walker, is combating coral reef degradation by working to preserve the largest and oldest corals - the key reef-builders of Florida’s Coral Reef. Corals that are more than five feet in diameter are classified as "massive." Since corals grow slowly, sometimes just one centimeter per year, their size indicates they have survived a variety of stressful conditions over a long period of time. The lab evaluates the health of 90 of the largest, most ecologically valuable coral colonies in the Coral ECA every month. Frequently visiting these colonies helps researchers identify recent mortality or disease lesions and allows response teams to conduct disease interventions to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible. Saving these colonies is imperative to preserve the shoreline protection benefits healthy reefs provide and to prepare for future restoration.
2020 SEAFAN BleachWatch Season Concludes
Thank you to all our observers, who collectively submitted 54 BleachWatch reports since the beginning of June 2020! BleachWatch is an important citizen science program that helps us detect the potential onset of mass bleaching events and monitor the recovery and resilience of Florida's Coral Reef. We combine environmental monitoring data, including sea surface temperatures, with observer network reports to produce a comprehensive overview of current conditions in the Coral ECA. We appreciate our observer network serving as extra eyes out on the reef!

Of the 54 reports submitted, there were 35 reports of bleaching and 12 reports of disease. Encrusting/mound/boulder corals were observed with the most bleaching and disease. Most reports came from Palm Beach and Broward County. Aspergillosis was observed again this season on Caribbean sea fans (Gorgonia spp.) and reported by 12 observers in Broward and Palm Beach County. Sponge orange band disease was also reported at one site in Broward County and four sites in Palm Beach County. This disease affects giant barrel sponges (Xestospongia muta).
Bleached MCAV
Bleached and healthy great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa) observed by William Caffrey near Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County.
We need your eyes on the reef year-round! Given the severity of the stony coral tissue loss disease outbreak and other conditions on the reef, including aspergillosis and sponge orange band disease, we encourage the BleachWatch Observer Network to continue submitting observations on coral condition after every dive on the reef and to report any unusual marine sightings in southeast Florida to SEAFAN.

Special thanks to one of our trained BleachWatch instructors, Erik, who hosted a virtual BleachWatch training for 29 people! If you are interested in taking the free, two-hour BleachWatch course virtually, please complete this survey and you will be contacted by one of our dedicated instructors. 
Friends of Our Florida Reefs Update
By Melissa Sathe, President
Friends of Our Florida Reefs continues to fundraise for a new Florida’s Coral Reef exhibit at the Marine Environmental Education Center in Hollywood, FL. This exhibit will feature a custom 300+ gallon tank with native coral species, along with an educational display highlighting Florida’s Coral Reef and the conservation work of the DEP Coral Reef Conservation Program. Friends of Our Florida Reefs is close to reaching its goal! Visit the website dedicated to this effort to learn more and donate.
Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Update
In Sept. 2020, surveyors reported stony coral tissue loss disease progressed further west of Key West, FL. The new disease boundary is approximately 17-20 miles southeast of Pulaski Light in Dry Tortugas National Park on the western edge of the Marquesas Islands. No lesions were found inside park waters.
In Oct. 2020, DEP staff joined partners from Florida Sea Grant, Dallas Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for a virtual panel hosted by Aquarium of the Pacific to discuss the
Gluing It Back Together-Novel Probiotic Treatments for SCTLD

Treatments for stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) are being approached from a new perspective at the Coral Health and Marine Probiotics Lab at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, FL.

Read more
Celebrating 20 Years of the
Coral Reef Conservation Act
The Coral Reef Conservation Act (CRCA) was signed into law on Dec. 23, 2000, establishing NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP). For 20 years, the program has brought together expertise from across the agency and its partners to protect, conserve and restore the nation’s coral reef ecosystems. The program works with state and territorial governments, academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations and community groups to address local issues that affect coral reef ecosystems. The CRCA establishes funding and support from NOAA's CRCP, which has directly resulted in the formation of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative - a multi-stakeholder coalition that has been working since 2004 to reduce stressors to coral reefs in Florida. Reauthorization of the CRCA is important to continue support for Florida’s CRCP. Join us in celebrating this significant milestone and supporting the CRCA’s reauthorization!
DEP Settles Four Coral Reef
Protection Act Cases
By Mollie Sinnott, RIPR Coordinator
DEP's Reef Injury Prevention and Response Program (RIPR) continues to minimize and manage coral reef damage by pursuing incidents under Florida’s Coral Reef Protection Act (CRPA). RIPR program staff worked with DEP’s Southeast Regulatory District to resolve four open coral reef damage incident cases this year within the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area. The responsible parties, including one recreational yacht and three commercial vessels, all settled with DEP. The three commercial vessel companies opted to develop and conduct internal CRPA education and outreach, in an effort to prevent future impacts. Through the settlement of these four cases, DEP was able to recover a combined total of approximately $378,000 in civil penalties and damages. These funds were deposited into a trust fund and designated for specific coral reef-related uses, ensuring they will be applied to incident response, protection and restoration priorities, as defined under the CRPA. 
Corals in the Classroom
Interested in having DEP virtually visit your class?
Choose from the four presentations below or contact Michelle Graulty.
All presentations run 45-50 minutes.
Suitable for elementary
school and above. 

  • Basic coral biology. 
  • Cultural, ecological and economic importance of Florida’s Coral Reef.
  • DEP Coral Reef Conservation Program and reef resource management.  
  • How you can be a coral champion.

Suitable for elementary
school and above.

  • Identify the seven Florida coral species listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Coral bleaching.
  • Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.
Reef Fish ID
Suitable for middle
school and above.
  • Identify 20 different fish species, including eels and rays.
  • Connections between healthy reefs and healthy fish populations. 
  • Reef fisheries in Florida 
  • How you can support sustainable reef fish populations.
Rivers to Reefs
Suitable for advanced elementary classes and above. 

  • Connection between the Everglades and Florida’s Coral Reef. 
  • Water quality impacts.
  • How you can be water wise and support reef health.