Corals: A 50-Year Photographic Record of Changes

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Detailed Description

This video podcast highlights 50 years of photographic documentation of coral reefs in the Florida Keys.  The photographs show 5 decades of changes that have taken place in both the size and the types of corals that were present at several coral reef sites from the early 1960s to today.  The images capture events such as the appearance of coral disease and the die off of coral species like staghorn in the region.


Date Taken:

Length: 02:25:00

Location Taken: Florida Keys, FL, US


In 1960, before he became a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Gene Shinn
began chronicling conditions at seven coral reef sites in the Florida Keys. What
began as a hobby, he continues today, having established an unprecedented 50-year
photographic record of changes in coral reef conditions throughout the Caribbean.

Shinn started exploring a new way of measuring coral growth at Carysfort Reef
without removing corals from the water. It involved inserting stainless steel rods
into the coral as a reference point, so that he could measure how fast the coral grew
up around it.

"I started this work, putting stainless rods in coral heads, in 1960 and I thought it
might be a good idea to take photographs. I didn't realize what a good idea that was
at the time."

This passion for coral turned into 50 years of photographic documentation.

His images show 5 decades of changes that have taken place in both the size and the
types of corals that were present at Carysfort Reef from the early 1960s to 2010.
ShinnÕs images capture the appearance of coral disease that began in the late 1970s.
Unfortunately, coral reef growth and structure continues to deteriorate today.

Shinn has similar photographic records at other sites throughout the Florida Keys.
At a site known as Grecian Rocks, he documented the die off of staghorn corals that
were prolific until the early 1980s.

"It started to die in the late 1970s but most died between 1980 and 1988.
Historically throughout the Caribbean, coral deaths started in the mid 80s and from
then on, there is practically no more staghorn. Soft corals like Gorgonians and sea
fans have taken over."

ShinnÕs images create a visual record that documents changes that have been
observed throughout corals in the Florida Keys as well as the greater Caribbean.
Today, researchers continue to monitor the health of coral ecosystems and study
likely causes of changing environmental conditions.

You can learn more about coral reef research and see the individual underwater
photos at Thanks for watching. The Coastal and Marine Geology Podcast
is produced by the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg, Florida, Department of
the Interior.