Coral Rescue in Miami Beach

A team of coral researchers from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Miami (UM) rescued 43 coral colonies after a sea wall collapsed at Star Island, near Miami Beach.

The rapid coral rescue effort occurred at one of NOAA’s regularly monitored research sites. While conducting a routine survey, scientists from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) noticed the partially collapsed sea wall, which previously hosted dozens of coral colonies, including endangered mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata). The corals directly impacted by the initial wall collapse were likely crushed, while the surrounding coral colonies were dislodged and covered in silt.

Within days, a collaborative, highly-trained, rescue team conducted a survey of surviving corals and rescued 43 colonies from the remaining portions of the wall, focusing on collecting endangered species and species susceptible to Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, which rapidly destroys the tissue of important reef-building corals.

Keir Macartney, NOAA CCME/University of Texas Post-Doctoral Fellow, carefully collects a coral colony from the area of the collapsed seawall. Image Credit: NOAA

Research over the past several years by AOML scientists, including environmental monitoring, biodiversity assessments, coral sampling, and lab-based experimentation, has suggested that corals in the wider Port of Miami area are more resilient than their counterparts found on offshore reefs. These “urban corals” are often found on artificial substrates such as seawalls and rip-rap, and are exposed to extreme swings in temperature, pH, and water quality. It is hypothesized that corals in habitats like the Port of Miami may be better able to survive climate change, and could be a source of particularly resilient corals for restoration efforts.

“It was an unfortunate situation that the wall collapsed and resulted in the loss of many colonies, but our actions to save what was left will support ongoing conservation efforts, and showcase the important work that AOML is doing here in Miami.”

Michael Studivan, Ph.D., a University of Miami scientist based at NOAA/AOML who led the rescue effort
Divers recovering a coral colony off Star Island, Miami Beach, FL.  (from left to right) Carly Dennison and Rich Karp from the University of Miami’s Baker Lab, Joe Unsworth from the University of Miami’s Lirman Lab, and Keir Macartney, a NOAA CCME/University of Texas Post-Doctoral Fellow.  Image Credit: NOAA/Allyson DeMerlis

The rescued corals were brought to UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Sciences for assessment and will support research and restoration programs at NOAA/AOML and UM, including coral disease experiments, coral spawning, and reef restoration efforts. Some of these corals will be relocated to the AOML Coral Urban Reef Experimental Site, a coral nursery in the Port of Miami, which can be seen from the Coral City Camera, a live video stream run by our partner Coral Morphologic.

Coral rescue tray containing Colpophyllia natans, Montastraea cavernosa, Pseudodiploria clivosa, Porites porites, and Oculina diffusa. Image Credit: NOAA

 The research teams from NOAA/AOML and UM are both permitted coral nurseries and were given special authorization to salvage corals by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Both groups are experienced in rapid coral relocation efforts after participating in previous construction mitigation and coral disease rescue operations in the Port of Miami and Florida Keys.

“This was a well-executed collaborative effort on behalf of NOAA/AOML and UM, and highlights the critical need for researchers and regulatory partners to create rapid response protocols in the face of a changing climate, coastal development, and increasing damage to coral reefs.”

Ian Enochs, Ph.D.. research ecologist at NOAA and head of AOML’s Coral Program.

The research is funded by the NOAA Research Omics Initiative.