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A team from the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center will assist the National Park Service in natural resource damage assessment expedition in the Dry Tortugas following a direct hit by Hurricane Ian.

Three coral colonies in a row across a reef - two bright orange elkhorn and one branching staghorn in the center
The U.S. Geological Survey is conducting research to guide the restoration and recovery of threatened corals in Dry Tortugas National Park and throughout the western Atlantic. Shown here are two colonies of the threatened elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, with a colony of staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, in the center. These coral colonies were planted by USGS scientists (with permission from the National Park Service) as part of the Coral Assessment Network (USGS-CAN) that provides data on coral-growth, or calcification, rates throughout the Florida Keys. Learn more about USGS Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies.

Tragically, Hurricane Ian resulted in loss of human life and substantial property damage throughout its area of impact. With this storm, critical natural resources such as coral reefs within Dry Tortugas National Park were also affected. Coral reefs serve as critical natural infrastructure that protect shorelines, support endangered species, and provide habitat for economically important fisheries and tourism. Several Endangered Species Act-listed coral species are expected to have sustained damages to their populations resulting from 120 mph-winds and 20 to 25-foot seas experienced when the eye wall of Hurricane Ian passed directly over the park on September 27.

Anastasios Stathakopoulos, Andy Farmer, and Ben Galbraith (USGS SPCMSC), along with Erin Lyons (contracted to USGS by Akima Systems Engineering) will join a team of six from the NPS aboard the Motor Vessel (M/V) Makai. The group will work in Dry Tortugas National Park for seven days to survey field sites for damage to natural resources, secure or reattach broken coral, and repair the Park’s underwater coral nursery. Additionally, the collaborative team will conduct search and recovery of scientific instruments from the USGS-NPS Water Quality Partnership experiment that was initiated this past May. Ilsa Kuffner and team started the new coral-growth study with elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) to test hypotheses about why corals grow so well in the Dry Tortugas compared to elsewhere on the Florida’s coral reef. Depending on the status of the experimental corals and instruments, the team may have to re-initiate the experiment in May 2023.

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