Pre-Construction Coral Survey of the M/V Wellwood Grounding Site

Steve Gittings
NOAA, Office of the National Marine Sanctuaries

Pre-Construction Coral Survey of the M/V Wellwood Grounding Site (pdf, 388K)
This report documents abundance and cover for selected elements of the benthic coral reef assemblage at the site of the 1984 grounding of the M/V Wellwood on Molasses Reef, Florida Keys. The purpose of the effort was to establish a pre-construction baseline before the installation of reef modules at the site. The installation process is intended to stabilize fractured substrates that were recently exposed by storm impacts, and to provide three-dimensional relief in order to enhance reef community recovery. It is hoped that the restoration effort will result in a biological assemblage with the character of the transition community that would exist there had the incident not occurred. To date, the assemblage has developed the character of a comparatively featureless hard ground similar in composition to hard ground areas and transition zones surrounding the grounding site. These data will allow scientists and resource managers to better track the trajectory of recovery following the installation of modules. Direct counts of scleractinian and gorgonian corals, hydrocorals of the genus Millepora, and zoanthids of the genus Palythoa were made in three areas within and around the grounding site. The site is poorly developed with respect to scleractinian colony size and cover compared to surrounding areas. Key scleractinian species necessary for the development of topographic relief in the area denuded by the grounding are not well represented in the current community. Though gorgonian cover and richness is similar in all study areas, gorgonian community recovery in the damaged area is not complete. Unlike surrounding areas, one species, Pseudopterogorgia americana, accounts for over half of all corals at the grounding site, over 80% of all gorgonians, and nearly all the coral cover. Based on these findings and other observations made in the 18 years since the grounding, recommendations are made that should be considered in the course of human intervention targeted at stabilizing and enhancing the site.

Key words: Grounding, restoration, coral abundance, coral cover, recovery

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