A fluorescence photograph of the hybrid fused staghorn coral.
It was the discovery of a hybrid fused staghorn coral living on a granite boulder beneath the shadows of a luxury condo that initially sparked our interest in the resilient corals that are taking advantage of Miami’s underwater infrastructure. Colin first presented this coral to the public for TEDxMIA in 2011 in a talk titled ‘A Hybrid Future – The Corals of Miami’. But with the Army Corps’ Deep Dredge of Government Cut happening just a stones throw from where this coral lives, we have been particularly concerned about the health of this coral. Not only are Miami’s corals being inundated with excessive dredge silt, they’re also dealing with the same water conditions that have induced an alarming percentage of corals to bleach across South Florida’s reefs.
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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.
A morphing loop of ‘The Humongous Fungus Among Us Issue’ photographed under daylight, blacklight, and fluorescence filter.
Be sure to pick up a copy of the August, 2014 offering from VICE Magazine, ‘The Humongous Fungus Among Us Issue’, which features a special blacklight-reactive cover depicting Zoanthus polyps cloned and photographed in the Coral Morphologic lab. The issue’s contents are also available online, including the cover story, ‘Miami Is Drowning‘, by John McSwain.
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’ 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.
A ‘Coral Reef City‘ vinyl-wrapped parking booth at PortMiami, 2014. Photo: Gesi Schilling
Earlier this year we teamed with artist and friend Bhakti Baxter to wrap 18 parking booths at PortMiami with colorful vinyl, vividly depicting portraits of Miami’s now-iconic soft corals, Zoanthids. ‘Coral Reef City’ was commissioned by Miami-Dade Art in Public Places and will remain at the port through 2024, welcoming 4 million visitors annually. As of this week, we are honored to announce that the project was awarded among the best public art projects in the nation by Americans for the Arts as part of their Public Art 2014 Year in Review.
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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