Coral reefs of the Florida Keys are unique national treasures. In general, reefs cover less than 1 percent of the ocean floor but support about 25 percent of marine life. However, reefs around the world are declining due to climate change, ocean acidification, coral disease, overfishing and other stressors. In some areas of Florida and the Caribbean, coral cover has declined by 50-80 percent in just the last three decades.

We are investigating potential strategies to help reverse these declines in our lifetime. In particular, we developed a micro-fragmentation and fusion method to speed the growth of brain, boulder and star corals — crucial reef-building species known for their slow growth in the wild.

At the Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration on Summerland Key, Florida, we raise and study more than 20 species of hard corals, using fragments “rescued”by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary following boat groundings and other disturbances. Our broodstock reserve facility maintains optimal light and water chemistry conditions to produce thousands of coral fragments for reef restoration and conduct studies to determine optimal size, shape and season for planting fragments onto depleted reefs. We are investigating how to optimize restoration for the warmer, more acidic oceans expected in our future.

Our colleagues in Mote’s Coral Reef Monitoring & Assessment Program maintain an underwater nursery growing staghorn corals, a threatened branching coral species that grows relatively quickly. Together, our programs have planted more than 20,000 corals onto depleted reefs in the Florida Keys.

These efforts are made possible through collaboration with partners such as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Nature Conservancy (TNC). In fact, a new Mote-TNC initiative announced in 2016 aims to expand coral research in Florida and the Caribbean, and in time, allow us to restore the region’s corals at unprecedented scales.

Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration hosts the work of multiple Mote scientists and our collaborators from around the world. Those interested in learning more can contact Erin Kabinoff.

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