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Efforts underway to preserve and restore Florida’s coral reefs

South Florida scientists and locals work to preserve and restore Florida's coral reefs

MIAMI – Florida’s coral reef stretches approximately 360 linear miles from Dry Tortugas National Park west of the Florida Keys to the St. Lucie inlet in Martin County, but huge sections are under attack, facing everything from pollution, to climate change, and deadly diseases.

That’s why efforts to protect and preserve a rare species of native coral, and encourage future growth, are being mounted in several ways.

Off the coast of South Florida, divers with the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science are keeping a close eye on our coral reefs.

Some species of coral are all but extinct including the rare Pillar Coral, which is among several falling victim to something called ‘stony coral tissue loss disease.’

“It was first documented in 2014 right here in southeast Florida and has been progressively moving through the keys and now more recently the Caribbean and it causing extreme mortalities among the corals it infects,” said Lad Akins, Curator of Marine Conservation and boat captain for the Frost Museum.

Lesions are the first evidence of disease.

“And those lesions spread very quickly and in a matter of weeks to just a few months it can kill an entire coral colony that could be hundreds of years old,” Akins said.

In an effort to preserve the dying species, clusters of pillar coral brought in from Dry Tortuga’s National Park are now growing at the Frost Museum of Science in downtown Miami.

“We tried to get ahead of the curve there because that was the last place where the disease hadn’t spread yet. We send it through 30 days of quarantine, we’re watching it really closely and also giving it a bit of antibiotics to make sure it’s not bringing any disease with it, to affect any of our happy corals here,” said Juliette Horn, an aquarist with Frost.

Scientists here are working on ways to preserve the genetic diversity of these corals, so that they can either be spawned in the lab or reared and then re-released once there are solutions for these deadly diseases.

“It may not be these exact corals but some recent technologies have allowed us to spawn these corals in the lab setting and then rear their offspring, which can be replanted back out at the reef,” Adkins said.

Several miles inland, 15-year-old Austin Mortazavi with Boy Scout Troop 599, is doing his part to support the effort by building ‘trees’ that will serve as artificial reefs at dry Tortuga’s National Park.

“Essentially it’s a whole bunch of PVC pipes held together by rope that they’ll connect some coral to them and then once put in the ocean the coral will grow forming coral reefs,” Mortazavi said.

“If we could all just come together and make the ocean cleaner that would be amazing,” he added.

Troop 599 set out to make seven artificial coral reef trees, but wound up making 12.

To learn more about their efforts to save our coral reefs go to:

Website: http://www.troop599Miami.com

Email: Info@troop599miami.com

To learn more about the efforts at the Frost Museum of Science go to:

https://www.frostscience.org/florida-coral-reef-restoration/


About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Louis Aguirre returned home to Miami and Local 10 in September 2017.