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The U.S. Geological Survey’s PISCES project aims to identify the causes and consequences of seafloor erosion to guide coral restoration strategies in the Florida Keys. Dr. Lauren Toth of the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center will explain the background, purpose, and plans for this project to local stakeholders via the Sanctuary Advisory Committee meeting prior to planned field work.

A transect image and 3D model of a coral reef, and a graph displaying reef elevation across the transect
Example of data collected by SQUID-5 at Cheeca Rocks in the Florida Keys during a SQUID-5 system test conducted prior to acquisition activities at Looe Key and Eastern Dry Rocks. A. Color-enhanced orthomosaic imagery (many photos stitched together) with two example transects for measuring elevation. B. Bathymetry (water depth) data collected by SQUID-5 in the same two survey passes. C. Elevation profiles along the two transects shown in A & B. From

Coral reefs provide numerous benefits to coastal communities including protection from flooding during storms as well as ecosystem benefits such as habitat for numerous ecologically and economically important species. Reef degradation due to climate change and anthropogenic influences has caused large-scale seafloor erosion since at least the 1930s. While there are inherent risks to seafloor loss such as reductions in ecosystem benefits, this erosion has also resulted in greater increases in water depths than projected from sea-level rise alone leading to increased flood risk for coastal communities.  

The PISCES project is working to identify the processes driving elevation change. One of the methods used to do this involves towing the Structure-From-Motion Quantitative Underwater Imaging Device (SQUID-5) across the water’s surface over reefs in the Florida Keys to collect high-resolution imagery and elevation data. These images are compared with diver-based photographs and will be used together with the elevation data to create 3-dimensional seafloor maps and quantify small-scale elevation changes and the processes driving them. Field work planned for July 2022 involves extensive mapping efforts that require cooperation and support from local partners in the Florida Keys such as closing reefs of interest to public visitation while sampling is underway. The Sanctuary Advisory Committee requested this presentation from USGS to inform the community of the importance of the work and how it will support reef conservation and restoration efforts by partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  

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