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Florida's Coral Reef

Florida's Coral Reef Conservation

The Florida coral reef tract, which is the third largest barrier reef in the world, is in danger of losing 50% of its stony coral species to a novel, quickly spreading disease. To understand how to stop the disease and recover, coral data is needed on the movement of the disease and changes over time. 

The majority of the monitoring has been focused on at the southern end of the reef ecosystem from Miami south to the Florida Keys. The northern most reaches, which may become a refugia as water temperatures rise, needed scientific divers to collect data, monitor, and eventually recover the coral.  

This is a collaborative effort among local, state, and federal environmental managers, scientists, conservation organizations and reef users comprising the Florida Reef Response Program (FRRP). They have developed resilience-based management strategies for anticipating and addressing climate change and other stressors on Florida’s coral reefs. Our primary partners are NOAA and FWC who provide the annual training, weekly updates and deployment details. 

Palm Beach Zoo has joined the Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) team deploying our science divers to run transects throughout the months where thermal stress creates deadly conditions for the vulnerable stony coral species. This information is collected from the Northern Reef tract to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) This same team will be deployed when needed for recovery work. 

Our Zoo Science Diver team was initially activated in 2019 and runs the fieldwork annually during the months of August, September, and October. The DRM runs weekly meetings for updates and annual training in which all divers participate. 


Zoologist Nancy Nill takes a measurement. 

Palm Beach Zoo's Animal Experience Curator Mike Terrell notates the findings on his data sheet.

Terrell and Zoo COO Casey Coy define the area to be studied.