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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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.


Miami Coral Rescue Restrospective /// Urban Coral Hypothesis

Monday, June 9th, 2014


Meandrina meandrites Juvenile 1 SM

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.


Coral Morphologic Confirms 4 Undescribed Species of Zoanthids from South Florida

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Four Floridian zoanthids analyzed in our study. Clockwise from Top Left: 1) Undescribed Zoanthus aff. pulchellus 2) Undescribed Palythoa aff. variabilis 3) Zoanthus solanderi 4) Undescribed Terrazoanthus sp.

Recently, we spearheaded a study of the Zoanthids found in our local nearshore waters that has been published in the Journal of Marine Biology titled “Species Diversity of Shallow Water Zoanthids (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Hexacorallia) in Florida” with Dr. James Reimer and Yuka Irei of the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan. This is the first comprehensive study of its kind, analyzing DNA to determine the taxonomic authenticity of our local zoanthid species. We discovered that there are as many as four species of zoanthids in South Florida that have been overlooked by scientists until now.

Despite their ubiquitousness in shallow tropical waters, zoanthids have been largely neglected by marine biologists who have otherwise been more focused on understanding reef-building stony corals, leaving the taxonomy of tropical zoanthids vague and out of date. This, combined with the natural morphologic variability of these animals, makes physical identification difficult for the casual observer. The advent of DNA analysis has allowed for an accurate picture to emerge, and it is clear that there is much more diversity than had previously been recorded.

‘Anemone Spawn’

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

A fluorescent green flower anemone (Epicystis crucifer) releases sperm into the water column of an aquarium at the lab of Coral Morphologic.

On May 24th we observed this fluorescent green flower anemone (Epicystis crucifer) spawning in our lab, and managed to film the event. The anemone continued to release sperm for nearly 30 minutes, while several other nearby flower anemones released significantly smaller amounts of gametes. This was the second time we have witnessed a flower anemone spawning event at our lab this spring. We first observed a synchronous spawn of more than a dozen anemones in an outdoor aquaculture system that receives natural sunlight on April 12th. After the jump are photos of anemones spawning during this event.


(How To Grow) A Floating Forest

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

In order to understand what’s going on in the video, you’re going to want to read the post below!

One of the most innovative, practical, and functional coral nurseries on the planet can be found just a few miles off the shores of Key Largo. The nursery consists of thousands of neatly organized colonies of the critically important staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) grown by the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) for the purpose of transplantation back to the reef. Staghorn corals have been decimated by disease and extreme weather here in Florida over the past 30 years, resulting in a seriously degraded reef ecosystem. Fortunately the CRF has developed methods that maximize the growth potential of these corals in their nursery, demonstrating that coral aquaculture is a realistic and effective way to restore beleaguered wild populations.


‘Unidentified Ricordea Shrimp #1’

Monday, January 4th, 2010

‘Unidentified Ricordea Shrimp #1’
Unidentified commensal shrimp on Ricordea florida corallimorphs
Music, Video, and Aquarium
2010 Coral Morphologic

Shown above is the first documented video of a currently unidentified shrimp commensal with Ricordea florida corallimorphs. The nearly invisible shrimp measures only 9mm in total length. The ricordea polyp is about 30mm in diameter for comparison. We first reported and photographed this shrimp in October 2009. Subsequently, we sent a preserved specimen to taxonomist Dr. Richard Heard at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. Dr. Heard was unable to match the specimen with a described shrimp species. We will be sending additional specimens in the near future to confirm this shrimp’s newness to science.