Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST)

Reef History and Climate Change

Reef History and Climate Change

Ecosystem-wide study of seafloor erosion in the Florida Keys Coral Reef Tract

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Measuring Coral to Restore Reefs

Measuring Coral to Restore Reefs

How dynamic ocean conditions affect calcifying organisms today

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Science Center Objects

The specific objectives of this project are to identify and describe the processes that are important in determining rates of coral-reef construction. How quickly the skeletons of calcifying organisms accumulate to form massive barrier-reef structure is determined by processes of both construction (how fast organisms grow and reproduce) and destruction (how fast reefs break down by mechanical, chemical, and biological means).

Calcification monitoring station with a colony of the massive starlet coral, Siderastrea siderea, fastened in place.

Calcification monitoring station with a colony of the massive starlet coral, Siderastrea siderea, fastened in place. (Public domain.)

By combining our research activities involving mapping, monitoring, and retrospectively investigating reef processes such as calcification, reef metabolism, and microbial cycling, we will reveal linkages among them and establish connections to ecosystem services or outputs including reef edification, seawater chemistry, sand production, and habitat construction. Our work addresses several key issues related to the current status and potential declining health and resilience of shallow-water reef communities in the U.S. Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Florida Keys. Improved understanding and information resulting from our work will help guide policies and best management practices to preserve and restore U.S. coral reef resources.

The specific objectives of this project are to identify and describe the processes that are important in determining rates of coral-reef construction. How quickly the skeletons of calcifying organisms accumulate to form massive barrier-reef structure is determined by processes of both construction (how fast organisms grow and reproduce) and destruction (how fast reefs break down by mechanical, chemical, and biological means). The components of our project represent multiple disciplines working together to answer one fundamental question: 'what are the drivers determining calcification rates and reef construction, and will reefs cease to accrete (grow) in the near future in the context of ocean warming, ocean acidification, and/or compromised water quality?' We will also explore the seasonal, spatial (vertical and horizontal), and retrospective (historical and geological) heterogeneity in the reef processes we are investigating. A greater knowledge of the natural variability in these processes will afford us a much better chance of detecting and understanding potential impacts of global climate change or altered water quality on reef building.

Measuring Coral Growth to Help Restore Reefs

It is critical to start measuring calcification rates in a systematic way now, particularly at subtropical latitudes where conditions fluctuate seasonally, so that we can understand how dynamic ocean conditions affect calcifying organisms today and predict possible changes in the future. We established a calcification monitoring network in the Florida Keys and have been measuring calcification rates since 2009.

Coral Reef Seafloor Erosion and Coastal Hazards

Synchronized field work focused on geochemistry, geology, and metabolic processes overlaid on a habitat map of an entire reef to produce a synoptic overview of reef processes that contribute to carbonate precipitation and dissolution.

Reef Histroy and Climage Change

Ecosystem-wide study of seafloor erosion, changing coastal water depths, and effects on coastal storm and wave impacts along the Florida Keys Coral Reef Tract in South Florida.

Holocene Coral-Reef Development

With the continuing threat of climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances, the future of Florida's coral reefs is uncertain. One way to gain insights into the future trajectories of Florida's coral reefs is to investigate how they responded to environmental disturbances in the past.

Microbial Processes on Reefs

The microbial community on coral reefs is generally underappreciated given the ubiquity, abundance, complexity, and formative role these prokaryotes serve in the metabolic and chemical processes on reefs. We use microbiological and metagenomic techniques to decipher the roles the microbial community are playing in processes such as coral disease, submarine groundwater discharge, calcification, and dissolution.

Previous Research

Community Calcification & Metabolism
Changing ocean chemistry resulting from climate change and ocean acidification also affects coral reefs at the community level. The severity of impacts to coral reefs depends, in part, on the ability of reefs to continue growing enough to keep up with rising sea level.

Benthic Habitat Mapping & Monitoring
Benthic community composition, percent cover, areal extent, and temporal stability are critical factors that contribute to the value of a given marine habitat. Knowledge of these benthic cover components provides a baseline for National Park Service resource managers, as well as a tool for planning research activities for other CREST scientists.</p></a>

Coral Disease
Coral diseases have been reported worldwide and with increasing frequency. Disease is now recognized as one of the major causes of reef degradation and coral mortality.