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SPCMSC coral team and Ohio State researchers travel to the Florida Keys to complete coral growth study

Ilsa Kuffner, Marine Biologist with the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, will lead a team along with collaborators from Ohio State University (OSU) to the Florida Keys to finish a study on the elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata. They will visit the Dry Tortugas National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and Biscayne National Park to conduct their research.

Elkhorn coral on a USGS calcification-assessment station in Dry Tortugas National Park
Established in 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Coral Assessment Network (USGS-CAN) provides data on coral-growth (calcification) rates throughout the Florida Keys. Pictured here is one of 30 stations located in in Dry Tortugas National Park. The data document seasonal and spatial patterns in coral growth that correlate with ocean conditions and are used to guide the management and restoration of coral species that have experienced population declines across the region. Shown here is the threatened Elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, that is largely responsible in the western Atlantic for creating the reef-crest habitat, the shallowest zone of the reef where waves break, that is essential for shoreline protection. (Credit: Ilsa B. Kuffner, USGS. Public domain.)

The elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, is a threatened species and its survival is critical to reversing coral-reef ecosystem collapse in the western Atlantic. Coral-reef ecosystems provide vital services such as coastal protection from storms, food security from fisheries, and economic returns from tourism. Elkhorn coral populations throughout the Florida Keys have declined precipitously and they are struggling to naturally produce new colonies, so restoration strategies have been implemented such as outplanting nursery-grown corals. Kuffner and her team have transplanted small elkhorn corals of different genetic strains from nurseries to five different locations along the Florida Keys reef tract. After two years of visiting the corals twice a year to photograph, weigh, and measure the size of each, they are now collaborating with Andrea Grottoli’s team at OSU to reveal the final nutritional status of each coral. This research will help inform partners on what factors affect the growth and success of nursery-grown, transplanted corals in various locations throughout the Keys to help make better decisions for coral placement in future restoration efforts.


Read what else is new at the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center.


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