Miami Beach Staghorn Coral Survey Pre- and Post-Hurricane Irma

by | Nov 18, 2017 | Corals, Reef, Science | 0 comments

One of the last tasks we took on before securing our laboratory prior to Hurricane Irma was to check on the health of a community of endangered staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) just offshore of Miami Beach. This community is one of the few remaining near-shore populations of these corals in Florida, and has proven to be more resilient than populations further South in Biscayne National Park, which have suffered from diseases. Because these staghorn corals along Miami Beach are growing on flat, hard seafloor, they were subjected to significant wave energy during Hurricane Irma.
When we finally had a chance to survey the damage last week, we sadly found that most of the staghorn colonies had been smashed to bits. Fortunately, many of the broken pieces of coral survived the maelstrom and have already begun cementing themselves back down to the sea floor and developing healthy new growth tips. While hurricanes can be exceptionally damaging to coral reefs, asexual fragmentation of corals due to these storms is also an important way they can colonize large areas of substrate. As unfortunate as it is to see this damage, based on what we observed post-hurricane offshore Miami Beach, we can expect new colonies to form, and thickets of these endangered corals will return once again.
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