Florida’s coral reefs are experiencing a multi-year outbreak of coral disease. While disease outbreaks are not unprecedented, this event is unique due to the number of coral species affected across a large portion of the Florida Reef Tract, and the ongoing nature of the event. The disease outbreak is highly prevalent and is estimated to have resulted in the mortality of millions of corals. In fall 2014, isolated sites with significant coral disease were reported near Key Biscayne in Miami-Dade County by FDEP’s Coral Reef Conservation Program staff as well as local scientists. By fall 2015, widespread disease was confirmed across approximately 55 linear miles of reef, including locations as far north as Pompano Beach in Broward County and as far south as Biscayne National Park with a few isolated reports in Palm Beach County. Disease continued to spread north and south into the Florida Keys throughout 2016, and by summer of 2017 reports of widespread disease were confirmed as far north as St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County and to the southern boundary of the upper Keys (Figure 1).
Since 2015, DEP and numerous partners from federal, state and local governments, universities, non-governmental organizations, and the south Florida community have been communicating regularly and working together on a multi-faceted response effort to:
Document the distribution, prevalence, severity and impacts associated with the disease outbreak
Experiment with treatments and other interventions;
Seek additional capacity and funding to support more comprehensive response efforts; and
Facilitating stakeholder assistance by creating a region-wide Reef Ambassador program and maintaining SEAFAN and C-OCEAN citizen science programs.
The exact cause and contributing factors for this event will likely take years to identify; however, addressing other known coral stressors (i.e. water quality, turbidity and sedimentation, etc.) will increase the ability of the corals to recover. For information on how you can help the corals recover, check out our Coral Reef Ambassador Initiative page!
Regional Coordination Calls
To improve communication about the status of the coral disease outbreak and coordination among reef managers, scientists and interested members of the community regarding these response efforts, DEP initiated coordination phone calls in summer 2015. Although initially focused on mainland southeast Florida where the disease outbreak originated, these coordination calls were reestablished during summer 2016 to include the entire Florida Reef Tract and are currently ongoing. Follow the links below to review a meeting summary from any of these calls:
DEP’s Florida Coastal Office staff partnered with coral disease experts Great Aeby from the University of Hawaii and Blake Ushijima from Oregon State University to deliver a two-day coral disease workshop. Approximately 125 participants representing a variety of agencies, organizations, universities and the south Florida community attended. The workshop included information on coral disease identification, ecology and investigation techniques. To review the workshop material and recordings, please follow the links below:
DEP’s Florida Coastal Office Southeast Region collaborated with staff from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to lead a three-day coral disease workshop to discuss the next phase of coral disease response efforts. Made possible by funds appropriated by the Florida Legislature and Governor Scott, the workshop was attended by approximately 40 participants, including leading coral disease scientists and animal health experts. To review the summaries and objectives from these workshops, please see below and click on the following links:
Objectives: (1) Discuss coral disease intervention and treatment methodologies, and identify the constraints that may limit them from application. (2) Collaborate with animal health experts regarding additional data needs or other strategies to proceed with interventions within the current regulatory framework.
Objectives: (1) Create a Florida Reef Tract-wide coral disease priority sampling plan, to include both single event biological collections and fixed station assessment. (2) Develop a plan for how existing and future samples should be analyzed across all disciplines and identify labs/personnel with the expertise to complete those analyses.
Have you observed coral disease on the Florida Reef Tract?
Report coral disease observations in southeast Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties) to SEAFAN:
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.