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Ilsa Kuffner of the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center (SPCMSC) is leading a team to determine the reasons coral grows faster in the Dry Tortugas compared to other areas in the Florida Keys.

Scuba diver on a coral reef with tools to measure coral
The U.S. Geological Survey is conducting research to guide the restoration and recovery of the threatened elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, in Dry Tortugas National Park and throughout the western Atlantic. In this photograph, research marine biologist Ilsa Kuffner is doing maintenance on a USGS “calcification station”. The USGS has established these stations, composed of cement blocks fixed to the reef with stainless steel rods embedded into the reef, throughout the Florida Keys and the U.S. Virgin Islands to do experiments on the growth rates of select coral species important to the process of building coral reefs. Learn more about USGS Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies.

The USGS conducts science in National Parks to help guide the stewardship of our Nation’s important natural resources. Coral reefs are critical natural infrastructure that protect shorelines, support endangered species, and provide habitat for economically important fisheries and tourism. Reefs are under threat from climate change and diseases, and several coral species are now listed as threatened, including the arguably most important habitat-forming species, the elkhorn coral.

Ilsa Kuffner, Anesti Stathakopoulos, BJ Reynolds, and Erin Lyons will be traveling to work in Dry Tortugas National Park for two weeks in May. Since 2009, the USGS has been conducting experimental coral growth studies throughout Florida and the U.S. Caribbean. For the elkhorn coral experiment beginning this month, the team will gather data to test hypotheses about why corals grow so well in the Dry Tortugas compared to elsewhere on the Florida’s coral reef. With funding from the USGS-NPS Water Quality Partnership program, they will deploy instruments that measure water temperature, oxygen levels, and salinity in order to better understand the oceanography at one of America’s most unique and isolated National Parks.

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