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Advancing Coral Intervention and Resilience in Southeast Florida

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Joshua D. Voss, Erin Shilling, Gabrielle Pantoni, Ryan Eckert, Alexis Sturm

This project was designed to improve understanding of the current spatial extent of the disease outbreak, prevalence, species affected, and the physiological responses of corals to stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD). Five primary tasks were established for this period of performance: (1) project coordination and permitting, (2) SCTLD surveys and survivor reconnaissance, (3) disease intervention strategies, (4) coral population genetics to inform restoration activities and management strategies, and (5) reporting.

Our results demonstrated that tissue loss disease incidence and prevalence may be highly variable over space and time on coral reefs in SE FL. For example, SCTLD was observed continually throughout the project period among corals at our Lauderdale-by-the-Sea sites, while for June 2020–May 2021 SCTLD was essentially absent in the Palm Beach and Martin County sites. In our in situ SCTLD intervention experiment, the Base 2B plus amoxicillin treatment was significantly more effective at treating individual SCTLD lesions on Montastraea cavernosa colonies than the chlorinated epoxy or leaving the colonies untreated. However, potential secondary impacts of amoxicillin treatments on SCTLD- affected corals remain uncharacterized. Finally, our population genetics assessments to date indicate that M. cavernosa demonstrated a distinct regional population structure with some very interesting links between the shallow Dry Tortugas and Lower Keys to reefs in SE FL. These genetic differences should be strongly considered when developing coral restoration strategies for Florida. To maintain biodiversity of this species, these individual populations should all be protected and individually targeted for conservation and restoration approaches.

We present six recommendations to (1) prioritize disease mitigation/intervention efforts to reduce losses of key coral reef ecosystem components, (2) develop strategic capabilities and teams to respond to new likely areas of SCTLD (e.g. Tortugas, Cuba) and assess risk at remote reef ecosystems (e.g. Alacranes, FGBNMS), (3) evaluate the role of water quality in SCTLD dynamics, (4) determine impacts of Base 2B plus amoxicillin treatments, (5) advance coral conservation initiatives with support from Magnuson-Stevens Act and implement actions/regulations for the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area, and (6) support effective management for coral reef populations and communities in Florida with additional information on population connectivity and source-sink dynamics.

Last Modified:
October 27, 2021 - 8:38am

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