The Florida Aquarium Conducts a Huge Multi-Agency Conservation Mission in Florida Keys to Help Restore Florida's Reefs

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The Florida Aquarium Conducts a Huge Multi-Agency Conservation Mission in Florida Keys to Help Restore Florida's Reefs

The Florida Aquarium staff recently reached another milestone on conservation and research efforts to increase populations of staghorn coral, one of two of the most endangered species of coral, in the Florida Keys. Aquarium staff have dedicated thousands of field and laboratory hours to help give corals a chance not only to survive but to thrive in a challenging and changing environment.


Earlier this month, The Florida Aquarium’s biologists and divers traveled to the Florida Keys for an unprecedented coral research and conservation trip designed to help the Florida Reef Tract combat a rapidly spreading disease that can potentially put this animal at risk of extinction.


The Florida Aquarium team members led the conservation mission in collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Keys Marine Lab, the University of Florida, University of Miami, Nova Southeastern University, and others, releasing over 3,000 staghorn coral offspring back into the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Each one of those corals has a unique genetic makeup, originating from 20 different parents, and range in age from eight months to two years old.

A florida aquarium diver assesses coral colonies for outplanting in the florida keys

The Florida Reef Tract is experiencing a multi-year outbreak of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. While disease outbreaks are not uncommon, this event is unique due to its large geographic range, duration and the number of species affected. Staghorn coral is not affected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, but the techniques used at The Florida Aquarium to raise young corals from eggs and sperm will be applied in the future to species that are heavily affected by the disease.


Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth, providing shelter to thousands of animal species. The reefs of the Florida Keys provide food and recreational opportunities for residents and vacationers alike and protects coastal communities as a buffer for hurricanes and other storms. The economic impact of tourism related to the Florida Reef Tract generates $8.5 billion in economic activity and supports over 70,400 jobs.


“This particular conservation mission was a great effort for us to be the lead on since it was a state-wide endeavor. It’s wonderful to work on reefs that are right in our backyard here in Florida and give back to the environment.” said Keri O’Neil, Senior Coral Scientist at The Florida Aquarium.


“The Florida Aquarium is proud to have led such an important mission. We believe that spawning, rearing and introducing genetically diverse coral is our best hope for saving the Florida Reef Tract,” said Roger Germann, President, and CEO. “This effort is a prime example of how working together is the key to restoring our Blue Planet. These efforts are having a good, positive impact and working towards a better future for our children.”


The Florida Aquarium staff members are now prepping for coral spawning in August, a synchronized event when coral polyps release a bundle of egg and sperm into the water that provides new corals to the current population.


Click here to learn more about The Florida Aquarium’s s coral reef research and conservation efforts.


*All research activities occurred within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and under permit.*

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