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The Endangered Corals of Fisher Island & The Saga of The Deep Dredge (Part 1 of 3)

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Fisher Island Silt Plume_web

Aerial view of Biscayne Bay and Government Cut. Fisher Island is encircled in the Army Corps’ Deep Dredge silt 4/14/15

Over the past eighteen months, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Deep Dredge of PortMiami has continuously released dirty water throughout Biscayne Bay and onto our surrounding reefs. The dredging will continue through at least August 2015. Over the course of the Dredge project we have observed levels of suspended silt far beyond what is environmentally acceptable or healthy in a coral reef environment. Silt that is directly causing coral mortality in areas far beyond where the Army Corps predicted.

One of Coral Morphologic’s biggest ongoing concerns during the Deep Dredge has been the well-being of a hybrid fused-staghorn coral (Acropora prolifera) colonizing the Fisher Island side of Government Cut. This coral is what kickstarted our interest in documenting the extent of coral colonization within Miami’s coastal waterways, and was the subject of Colin’s 2011 TEDxMIA talk ‘A Hybrid Future: The Corals of Miami‘. The concerns we expressed to the State of Florida about this coral is ultimately what led them to provide us with permits to rescue corals from the dredging far offshore… but not for the hybrid itself (or any other corals on Fisher Island).

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‘Coral Morphologic TV’ @ Red Bull Guest House 2015

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

‘Coral Morphologic TV’ debuted this past weekend at the Sagamore Hotel, on Miami Beach. The site-specific installation was commissioned by the Red Bull Guest House, and consists of 4 vinyl-wrapped outdoor televisions each playing the Coral Morphologic films ‘Natural History Redux‘ & ‘Circumtropical’ on loop.

‘Coral Therapy’ @ Design Miami/ 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014

The ‘Coral Therapy’ Design Curio at Design Miami/ 2014. 

For Design Miami/ 2014, we were honored to be asked to create a conceptual room in which we debuted ‘Coral Therapy’, a 360-degree virtual reality film experienced via the Oculus Rift. When viewing ‘Coral Therapy’, the viewer is enveloped by fluorescent corals and sea anemones; much like being inside a virtual planetarium theater. ‘Coral Therapy’ is designed to convey a virtual out-of-body experience in which the viewer is transported to a tranquil tropical reef in outer-space. An original ambient score enhances the cosmic coral perspective while accentuating the peaceful and relaxing experience.

‘Coral Therapy’ in action via Oculus Rift VR 

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Miami Coral Bleaching Report (September 7, 2014)

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

As we last reported, a combination of hot weather and sunny days in summer 2014 has resulted in very a bad year for coral bleaching in South Florida. In this dispatch, we surveyed the natural reef just offshore Fisher Island here in Miami. To make matters worse, the water is exceptionally silty from the Army Corps’ dredging of Government Cut less than half a mile away. The water is 10-15 feet deep here, and nearly all of the coral heads were bleached. However, the most alarming condition we observed was the prevalence of black band disease infecting many of the brain corals. While healthy corals can usually recover from a bleaching episode, a coral suffering from both bleaching and black band disease will probably die. As evidenced from the video, the dredge silt has settled on the corals, and is likely a culprit in causing this black band disease outbreak. Currently, the dredge ships are operating just outside the mouth of Government Cut jetties, resulting in plumes of silt that smother corals on the natural reefs in every direction.

Fortunately, we have seen the water temperatures steadily decrease since the start of September, so we are hopeful that the bleached corals throughout South Florida will begin to recover soon. However, up here in Miami with the Deep Dredge ongoing, our corals may be too stressed out, diseased, or smothered to survive. We will be monitoring the situation closely, and will continue to update as necessary.

Lower Keys Coral Bleaching Report (August 22, 2014)

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Having been preoccupied with the Miami Coral Rescue Mission this summer, we finally made our first excursion to the Lower Keys this summer on Friday August 22. Sadly, we found that a distressingly high percentage of corals living on the reefs in Hawk Channel are severely bleached. Most of the staghorn corals that we saw were severely bleached or actively dying, though there were a few hardy exceptions. Nearly all of the brain corals were bone white. All over the reef we observed an unhealthy mix of cyanobacteria and algae proliferating on previously dead coral skeletons. Even the normally hardy gorgonians, corallimorphs, and zoanthids showed significant bleaching on all three patch reefs we checked. The water temperature was an uncomfortable 89 degrees on the bottom. Without strong winds or storms to cool off the water, we are concerned that many reefs in the Keys will lose significant coral cover in the next several months.

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‘Flower Animal’ @ Miami International Airport

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

‘Flower Animal’ exhibition @ Miami International Airport, 2014

We are proud to share that Miami International Airport/ MIA Galleries has unveiled an 80-foot spread featuring selections from our local marine life photography collection, ‘Flower Animal‘. The exhibition is comprised of eleven metallic-paper, diasec-mounted prints, and is located in the North Terminal, near gate D-31. This collection of prints is available to purchase directly from Coral Morphologic, here.

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Miami Coral Rescue Restrospective /// Urban Coral Hypothesis

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Baby Meandrina  (maze brain coral) polyp_IG

A hyper-fluorescent juvenile Montastrea cavernosa rescued from Government Cut

After months of impatiently watching dredge ships working offshore Miami, Coral Morphologic and other researchers were finally granted a brief window of opportunity from May 26 until June 6th in which to rescue corals left behind from the legally-required relocation effort from the Army Corps of Engineers’ Deep Dredge of Government Cut. This was a much shorter length of time than we had been prepared for, and as such, we had to respond with considerable urgency in order to rescue as many corals as possible. Fortunately we had begun our detailed preparations in January 2014 by coordinating students and professors from the University of Miami to help in the effort. Collectively, the Miami Coral Rescue Mission removed over 2,000 stony corals that would have otherwise been destroyed in the process to make way for the larger ships that will pass through the soon-to-be-expanded Panama Canal.

The majority of the corals that Coral Morphologic removed from Government Cut have now been transplanted to an artificial reef about one mile south from where they originated, and where we will continue to monitor them to ensure their long-term survival. Some corals will be sent to the Smithsonian Institution for research. And the rest of the corals were brought back to our Lab, where we will document them via film and photography for a body of work titled ‘Coral City’, in which we will present them as fluorescent icons for a 21st century Miami.

While we could have rescued more corals with an extended deadline, the Miami Coral Rescue Mission is not over. It is now entering a longer-term monitoring phase in which we will continue to assess the health of surrounding coral reefs through July 2015, when the Deep Dredge project is finally slated for completion.

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