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Florida Regional Ecosystem Stressors Collaborative Assessment (FRESCA)

This project began in September 2023 and is projected to be completed in August 2027

We are investigating the current and future impacts of five key stressors–ocean acidification, hypoxia, harmful algal blooms, warming, and eutrophication–on South Florida’s coastal ecosystems. Results will provide actionable information for Everglades and Mission: Iconic Reefs restoration efforts, and water quality and fisheries management.

Diver surveys coral bleaching associated with the 2023 marine heatwave at Cheeca Rocks, one of the seven Mission: Iconic Reefs in the Florida Keys. Photo Credit: NOAA, AOML

Why We Care

South Florida’s coastal and marine ecosystems provide critical ecosystem services, generating billions of dollars for the economy and tens of thousands of jobs annually. The well-being of over six million people in Florida’s coastal counties depend on these ecosystems, which are beset by multiple stressors and global climate change. Multiple interacting stressors threaten these ecosystems and include ocean acidification, hypoxia, harmful algal blooms, increasing water temperatures, and eutrophication. 

These stressors, which vary in space and time, can shift the structure and productivity of marine food webs, leading to changes in population structure, abundance, biomass, and biodiversity. Changes in these communities alter ecosystem services in southwest Florida and the Florida Keys, affecting both the economy and recreation, as well as human and environmental health. Understanding the distribution, inputs, transport, impacts, and interactions of these key stressors across South Florida’s marine ecosystems is fundamental to supporting and informing current management decisions. Predicting the changes in these stressors under future climate change and restoration scenarios is critical for forward-thinking management and climate mitigation interventions.

What We Are Doing

We will investigate five interacting stressors (ocean acidification, hypoxia, harmful algal blooms, increasing water temperatures, and eutrophication) and their varying concentrations across South Florida’s ecosystems from the southwest Florida Shelf to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. We will explore how these stressors impact ecosystems under present and future climate change scenarios. We will also quantify the effects of planned future management and restoration scenarios proposed under Mission: Iconic Reefs and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Inputs for these scenarios will be refined through stakeholder engagement and a community co-design process to ensure that the data, models, and products will be useful for restoration and management efforts.

This holistic approach will be implemented as four interlinked modules that use a combination of direct measurements, remote sensing observations, and targeted experiments. Module 1 will track the present and future distribution of the five stressors. Module 2–4 will develop the fundamental science behind the impacts of the five stressors on important species and ecosystems in South Florida. Module 2 will quantify the responses to the five stressors for corals (Acropora cervicornis, Acropora palmata, Montastraea cavernosa, Orbicella faveolata, Porites astreoides, Pseudodiploria strigosa, Siderastrea siderea, Colophylia natans, Solenastrea bournoni, Porites porites, Siderastrea radians, and Stephanocoenia intersepta), bioeroding sponges (Cliona varians and Pione lampa), seagrass (Thalassia testudinum), Sargassum spp., and harmful algal bloom species Karenia brevis. Module 3 will apply the data from Module 1 and 2 to examine the response and resilience of coral reefs in Mission: Iconic Reefs and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Module 4 will trace and forecast the effect on the pelagic food web from plankton to fishes. 

This work is funded by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the Climate Program Office, the Ocean Acidification Program, and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, in collaboration with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries through the Notice of Federal Funding Opportunity “Understanding multi-stressor impacts on marine ecosystems under climate change.” It is led by Ian Enochs at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and Ana Palacio at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School, and consists of a team of nine scientists at seven institutions (NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Mississippi State University’s Northern Gulf Institute, Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association, University of South Florida, and Virginia Institute of Marine Science ).

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