A recent study in southeast Florida mapped more than 38 acres of staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), one of two corals presently listed as threatened under the United States Endangered Species Act. Of the 35 large and dense patches found, only seven were previously documented. Although the age, detailed boundaries and health have not yet been studied, the report states staghorn corals covered nearly 100 percent of the seafloor in some areas. This is particularly astounding, as reef-building coral (or stony coral) usually only account for 3-5 percent of the community on southeast Florida reefs.
Ocean explorer and conservationist Philippe Cousteau dove on one of the newly mapped staghorn reefs earlier this summer with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and said, “This is one of the nicest staghorn coral reefs I’ve ever visited.”
In addition to garnering the attention of Cousteau, local marine scientists have been ecstatic to learn of these 38 acres of staghorn coral, as positive news for coral reefs has become increasingly rare.
“Coral reefs are one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet and are continuously threatened by a combination of local and global stressors, especially here in southeast Florida,” said Joanna Walczak, Southeast regional administrator for DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “We really only started paying attention to this northern part of the Florida Reef Tract a decade ago – and it amazes me that we’re still finding new and exciting discoveries. This is a huge win for Florida’s corals and we look forward to learning more through ongoing research with our local partners.”
The study, conducted by Dr. Brian Walker from the Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center, was contracted by DEP to address one of the Coral Reef Conservation Program’s strategic priorities.
“This was an unexpected result of a project that was intended to improve our knowledge of the types and locations of near-shore reef habitats in southeast Florida. Understanding the health of these staghorn patches, their locations and the timing of their formation will provide valuable information on how to manage this threatened species in light of a changing climate,” Walker said.
Video footage of one of the sites can be viewed here.
The final mapping report can be viewed here.
More information on the FDEP Coral Reef Conservation Program is available here.