Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Out and about

Mote works to protect threatened coral reefs


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Worldwide, coral species are facing severe threats from warming ocean waters, ocean acidification, pollution and disease. Many reefs are in significant decline — with losses of up to 90 percent for some species.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently announced new protections for coral with the listing of 20 new species as “threatened” — including five species found in the Florida Keys where Mote Marine Laboratory has been studying coral ecosystems and developing new restoration methodologies for more than 15 years.

In fact, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recently announced that staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) grown in Mote’s underwater nursery and later replanted by FWC researchers offshore of Marathon had spawned in the wild — an exciting development demonstrating that corals grown with Mote’s innovative technology in a nursery setting and later used to restore a reef can reproduce naturally. This means that restoration methods developed by Mote and its partners show great potential to give corals the boost they need to rebuild.

Florida’s reef — the only barrier reef system in the continental U.S. — underpins the state’s marine ecosystems, draws $6.3 billion to Florida’s economy and protects its coastlines from major storms. The reef is at the heart of Mote’s world-class research focused on the conservation and sustainable use of our ocean’s natural resources. As the southernmost marine laboratory in the continental U.S., Mote’s Tropical Research Laboratory is positioned to support the study and restoration of Florida’s coral reef system.

In addition to working with staghorn corals — which have been listed as threatened since 2006 — Mote scientists are developing exciting new methods for restoring three of the newly-listed Caribbean species: lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis), mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata), bouldar star coral (Orbicella franksi). (The other newly listed Caribbean species are pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) and rough cactus coral, (Mycetophyllia ferox). Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) has been listed as threatened since 2006.)

While Mote scientists are attacking the issues that coral species face on a number of fronts, its Tropical Research Laboratory also serves as an important base of operations for other researchers from around the world who are also working to restore and protect reefs.

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