Both the Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary conduct research and
monitoring activities within their respective areas. FKNMS restoration biologists (CAMA and NOAA staff) regularly
provide logistical and scientific support for research and monitoring being conducted in the Keys. The CRCP is
currently conducting benthic habitat mapping in southeast Florida.
For 15 years the Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) has been the guiding force for water quality improvements
in the Florida Keys. The purpose of the WQPP is to recommend actions that maintain and restore the water quality
conditions needed to sustain healthy native plant and animal populations, using science as a basis for decision making.
As part of the program, research scientists have been conducting three long-term monitoring studies in sanctuary waters:
the Water Quality Monitoring Project, Seagrass Monitoring Project and the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project.
The Water Quality Monitoring Project has over 150 sampling sites and began in 1995. According to data collected throughout
the region, the most intense and persistent phytoplankton (algae) blooms originate outside of the sanctuary on the shelf
where elevated phosphate levels fuel the blooms. Phytoplankton blooms are also known to occur in nearby Florida Bay. When
the tides move through the channels between the Keys, algae-rich bay waters can reach the reef tract on the oceanside where
they may affect reef-building corals - animals adapted to warm, clear, low-nutrient waters.
The Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project has documented declines in live coral cover and species richness
(diversity) within the Florida Keys over the last fifteen years. Multiple stressors have contributed to these declines,
including high sea surface temperatures, coral disease, bleaching and damage from hurricanes. A wide variety of special
studies have been supported by the WQPP on topics such as coral disease, coral population dynamics and queen conch
In 2004, scientists from NOAA's Southeast Fisheries Science Center (Miami) began a long-term monitoring program in the
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to determine the current population status of elkhorn coral and to better
understand the primary threats or stressors affecting its recovery. Understanding basic population statistics (coral
recruitment and mortality) and the nature of stressors is critical to the species recovery plan and management of elkhorn
coral within the sanctuary. The study area is focused in the Upper Keys and contains twenty-seven permanent study plots
located on eight different forereefs. All elkhorn coral colonies in each study plot are mapped and assessed annually. A
randomly selected subset of colonies is assessed more comprehensively three times per year. During each of these more
in-depth surveys, scientists record the sources and severity of coral tissue loss, which includes prevalence and impact
of disease, physical damage, and predation by the coral-eating snail, Coralliophila abbreviata.
CRCP is currently conducting benthic habitat mapping for the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) region,
from the northern border of Biscayne National Park in Miami-Dade County to the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County. This
effort is led by Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center National Coral Reef Institute with funding from NOAA,
DEP and FWRI. The benthic habitat mapping efforts employ a combined-technique approach combining several types of
imagery and ground-truthing. Data types include Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) bathymetry, multi- and single-beam
bathymetry, acoustic seafloor discrimination, ecological assessments, and ground-truthing.
Since its establishment in 2004, the CRCP has coordinated monitoring efforts, the first being the Southeast Florida
Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project (SECREMP), an extension of Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project
(CREMP), which is conducted along the Florida Keys. The purpose of these efforts is to provide relevant and timely
information on status and trends of Florida’s coral reef and hard bottom resources. Currently funding has been awarded
to conduct two years of water quality monitoring for the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Water Quality Monitoring Project
(SECRWQMP) with the hope to continue this effort. Lastly, the program has obtained funding to design and implement the
first year of a fishery independent monitoring program.
The products from the mapping and monitoring projects will be instrumental in the development of preferred management
alternatives for southeast Florida’s coral reefs within the SEFCRI region.
Video Monitoring for Southeast Florida Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project.
Photo: Dave Gilliam, Ph. D, National Coral Reef Institute