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USGS teams are working together to study the state of coral reefs in the Florida Keys – combining data and knowledge on seafloor elevation change, sediment movement, biogeochemical processes, and carbonate budgets.

A small research vessel tows scientific equipment over bright blue water with another boat in the background
The R/V Sallenger tows the SQUID-5 over Looe Key reef with a NOAA Sanctuary boat in the background patrolling the Looe Key area to warn recreational vessels of the ongoing research activity. 

Coral reefs are important for supporting biodiversity, fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection, but are in decline worldwide, primarily due to extreme heat waves and subsequent coral bleaching, in addition to other stressors. By combining data and knowledge on seafloor elevation and coral reef carbonate budgets, USGS scientists are collaborating to better understand the current state, and predict the future of, the Florida Keys Reef Tract. The data being collected by USGS can also help inform partners working on coral reef restoration efforts such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Processes Impacting Seafloor Change and Ecosystem Services (PISCES) team is collecting elevation data at Looe Key Reef in the lower Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary this week, conducting surveys with the SQUID-5, or Structure-from-motion (SfM) Quantitative Underwater Imaging Device with 5 cameras. SQUID-5 is towed behind a boat to capture overlapping high-resolution images of the seafloor to create high-resolution, 3-dimensional models of seafloor structures. The PISCES team uses the models to predict coastal hazards due to the combined effects of seafloor erosion and sea-level rise. These data are also shared with partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to inform decisions on where coral reef restoration efforts may be most effective. The PISCES field crew includes Andy Farmer, Christine Kranenburg, and Dave Zawada of the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center (SPCMSC), Mitch Lemon from Cherokee Nation System Solutions (contracted to USGS), and Gerry Hatcher of the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center.

The second team will be diving on Looe Key reef to collect structure-from-motion underwater imagery that can be co-registered with the SQUID-5 data. The divers will also conduct surveys on organisms contributing to coral reef erosion such as urchins and parrotfish. These data help scientists estimate the amount of bioerosion, or how much coral skeleton is eaten away by organisms living on the reef—an important component of estimating carbonate budget. The diving crew includes Lauren Toth, Nesti Stathakopolous, Ben Galbraith, Selena Johnson, and Erin Lyons of SPCMSC.

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