Mission: Iconic Reefs

NOAA and partners have launched an unprecedented effort to restore seven ecologically and culturally significant coral reefs within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Informed by years of research, successful trials, and expertise, the mission represents one of the largest investments ever undertaken in coral restoration. By focusing additional efforts on coral reef habitat, Mission: Iconic Reefs complements NOAA's ongoing Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Restoration Blueprint and management plan.

The effort to put Florida Keys coral reefs on track for recovery is an enormous undertaking, requiring long-term collaboration between many partners. A cross-NOAA team is engaging world-renowned scientists, local restoration partners, and other federal and state agencies to save these important, iconic resources.

Learn more about Mission: Iconic Reefs.

B-roll videos

Examples of stony coral tissue loss disease affecting star coral, maze coral, and pillar coral in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Scientists observe and record disease progression on a large pillar coral colony.

Credit: Nick Zachar/NOAA

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Divers visit a coral nursery and help clean staghorn and elkhorn coral “tree” structures to remove nuisance algae. Nursery-grown corals are transported to the reef for outplanting. To outplant corals, divers prepare the substrate by removing surface sediment and algae, then affix coral colonies to the reef using marine epoxy. After outplanting, coral fragments grow into mature colonies, contributing to the structure and diversity of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary reefs.

Credit: Nick Zachar/NOAA, Paul Chetirkin/NOAA, Coral Restoration Foundation

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Restoration practitioners glue tiny “microfragments” of coral onto ceramic plugs in a land-based nursery. Using this strategy, slow-growing coral species can grow relatively quickly, and can fuse together to form large colonies.

Credit: Nick Zachar/NOAA

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Healthy coral reefs create impressive structures that are home to a vibrant array of fish and other reef creatures, support dive and snorkel tourism, and protect Florida Keys shorelines.

Credit: Nick Zachar/NOAA, David Ruck/NOAA

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Maps and stills

front page of the document

Mission: Iconic Reefs - Overview Document

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diver out planting coral

A diver prepares a site for staghorn coral replanting by removing nuisance algae.

Credit: Coral Restoration Foundation

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ocean-based coral tree nursery

An ocean-based coral nursery operated by the Coral Restoration Foundation in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Species like staghorn coral (pictured) are grown in these nurseries and transplanted to reefs.

Credit: Coral Restoration Foundation

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diver replanting coral

A diver replanting staghorn coral. The coral fragments are attached to the reef with epoxy and tagged to keep track of genetic information.

Credit: Coral Restoration Foundation

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map highlighting the 7 reefs

A map showing the location of the seven iconic reef sites proposed as focal areas for large-scale restoration.

Credit: NOAA

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map highlighting the boundary of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

This simple map outlines the boundaries of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in relation to south Florida. It does not show the boundaries of individual marine zones, or the boundaries of other state or federal areas.

Credit: NOAA

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transplanted elkhorn coral colonies on a reef

Two-year-old elkhorn coral colonies transplanted to Carysfort Reef by the Coral Restoration Foundation.

Credit: A. Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation

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A diver cleans algae and other nuisance species from coral “tree” structures in a Coral Restoration Foundation nursery. These structures are used to grow staghorn coral (pictured) and other coral species in ocean-based nurseries.

Credit: A. Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation

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Two divers work together to replant staghorn coral to a reef using epoxy

Two divers work together to replant staghorn coral to a reef using epoxy. Marine epoxy is a frequently-used method for adhering nursery-grown corals to reefs.

Credit: A. Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation

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Fragments of elkhorn coral wait to be attached to the reef at Looe Key

Fragments of elkhorn coral wait to be attached to the reef at Looe Key. Zoanthids, a type of marine invertebrate that can compete with corals for space, cover much of the surrounding reef area.

Credit: A. Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation

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before and after view of transplanted coral

Elkhorn coral transplanted to Carysfort Reef by the Coral Restoration Foundation in 2017 (left), and the same colonies in 2019, after two years of growth (right). Elkhorn coral is a fast-growing species that creates important, three-dimensional structure on Florida reefs.

Credit: A. Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation

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coral growing in a tank

Corals grown in a land-based nursery await transplanting. These corals were produced by sexual reproduction (from coral eggs and sperm). This method can help to increase genetic diversity in restored populations.

Credit: The Florida Aquarium

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man preparing coral to be transported for replanting

Staghorn corals grown in a land-based nursery are transported for replanting. Land-based nurseries are important tools for restoration.

Credit: The Florida Aquarium

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a dead elkhorn coral

Dead Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) at Sombrero Reef. (shows the need for restoration)

Credit: Ken Nedimyer

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A thicket of elkhorn coral, most of it dead

A thicket of elkhorn coral, most of it dead, at Looe Key Reef. (shows the need for restoration)

Credit: Ken Nedimyer

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person working on coral in a land-based coral nusery

Mote Marine Laboratory on Summerland Key developed a micro-fragmentation and fusion method to speed the growth of crucial reef-building species.

Credit: Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

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A school of fish swims just above various corals

One of the seven iconic reef sites, Cheeca Rocks, is dominated by large populations of star corals and other boulder corals

Credit: FKNMS/NOAA

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