Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project
SSC is a Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project partner, working to maintain genetic diversity in the reefs and prevent extinction of vulnerable coral species.
What is the Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project?
The Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project is a member-driven coral conservation network turning the tide on an environmental crisis causing critical habitat loss along the Florida Reef Tract (FRT), North America’s largest bank reef.
With leadership from four Florida organizations, Disney Conservation, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Sea World and The Florida Aquarium, select facilities are working with federal and state agencies to save stony coral tissue loss disease-susceptible corals species along the Florida Reef Tract.
Since March of 2019, nearly 2,400 corals have been placed in 28 facilities in 15 states. Aquarium biologists, including those at Seacoast Science Center, are caring for corals removed from the FRT while researchers try to better understand the disease, its impact on the reef, and how future outbreaks can be managed.
About Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse and productive ecosystems on Earth, home to more than a quarter of all marine species, including fish, mollusks, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, birds and more. Coral reefs protect coastlines from storms and erosion, provide jobs for local communities, and offer opportunities for food, recreation and even medicine.
Unfortunately, coral reef ecosystems are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. Threats include disease, pollution, sedimentation, unsustainable fishing practices, and rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. These issues may cause physical damage to these delicate ecosystems often stressing coral animals, leading to bleaching and death.
Why is the Florida Reef Tract in trouble?
Since 2014, the Florida Reef Tract has been experiencing a historic outbreak of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. Over 90% of the Florida Reef Tract has been affected, impacting 22 of Florida’s 45 species reef-building stony corals, including five corals on the Endangered Species List.
What is SSC doing to help?
Seacoast Science Center is one of the select facilities housing rescued corals for the Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project. Participating since September 2021, we are currently conducting the project as part of a 3-year term. By holding and propagating healthy corals collected from the Lower Florida Keys region, we are cultivating species for the purpose of gene banking and restoration stock for recolonization activities. SSC currently holds three different Rescue coral species, including Smooth Flower Coral (Eusmilia fastigiata), Ridged Cactus Coral (Mycetophyllia lamarckiana), and Knobby Cactus Coral (Mycetophyllia aliciae). We are equipped to, and may, acquire a few more colonies in the coming year.
Caring for the corals includes ensuring proper lighting, precise water temperature and water chemistry, and strict dietary requirements. Because it is critically important to maintain a high level of biosecurity, the filtration system is self contained and only SSC aquarists have access to the holding room.
The rescue was the first step towards restoration of the FRT. The next step will be reviewing the genetics of the rescued corals and developing a more robust propagation plan to ensure optimum genetic diversity. As more corals are propagated and offspring produced, they will be reared in human care to a size and age that will allow for their successful reintroduction to the reef ecosystem.
Fall 2023 Update
After successfully growing rescued corals for over 2 years, Seacoast Science Center has returned the species in their care to a partner facility in Florida. They will continue to cultivate the species for gene banking and for outplanting corals in the wild.