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2007 Florida Keys Mission
Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise

Expedition 2007
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

The mortality of reef-building corals has increased to unprecedented levels during the past three decades in the Caribbean region, including the Florida Keys. At the same time, the incidence of coral diseases has increased within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Most of the disease processes and contributing factors are not well understood, and little information is available on the broad-scale distribution, frequency, and intensity of coral diseases.

bleached coral
A bleached brain coral. (Photo: Mike White, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary)
Quantitative assessments of the prevalence of coral diseases and bleaching in the Florida Keys are necessary to help fill basic information gaps. Accordingly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf Ecology Division, in collaboration with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, has established a program to assess coral health. Reef sites throughout the Florida Keys were established in 1997, first assessed in spring 1998, summer 1998, spring 1999, and August 2000, and generally have been surveyed annually since then.

A healthy staghorn coral branch.
A healthy staghorn coral branch. (Photo: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary)
We presume that reefs in the Dry Tortugas and Tortugas Ecological Reserve, at least 70 nautical miles west of Key West, are relatively pristine, i.e., unaffected by the land-based stresses found in the Florida Keys. In 2007, the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster will be used to assess coral health in all locations where permanent stations have been established. The assessment will be compared to past years’ surveys to evaluate patterns and trends in coral health along the Florida Reef Tract.

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