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NCCOS Research Project

Technical Support for Inception of Florida DEP Coral Reef Nutrient Monitoring Program

Region(s) of Study: U.S. States and Territories / Florida
Primary Contact(s): dave.whitall@noaa.gov
This project began in January 2015 and is Ongoing

Eutrophication is the over-abundance of nutrients in a body of water that results in harmful algal blooms, fish kills, and in some cases ecosystem collapse. In coral reef ecosystems, excess nutrients can impact the coral, or allow other organisms to outcompete the coral. The north Florida reef tract does not have an existing water quality monitoring program. NOAA is working with state and local partners to initiate a sustainable water quality monitoring program for the northern reef tract.

Why We Care
Coral reefs are diverse, productive, and economically valuable, but are threatened by a variety of stressors, including land-based sources of pollution, such as nutrients and sedimentation. Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) are required by both plants and animals for healthy growth, but excess nutrients can have a negative impact on coral reproduction and recruitment by decreasing light penetration in the water column and increasing competition from benthic algae. Sedimentation, such as from dredging activities, can physically harm corals via smothering that decreases light penetration.

What We Are Doing
NOAA partners from NOS-NCCOS, OAR-AOML and NMFS-HCD are assisting partners of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) with the design and implementation of a water quality monitoring program for the north Florida reef tract, which extends from Miami to Martin County. The group convened a kickoff meeting in February 2015 at Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) offices in West Palm Beach, and has been discussing design parameters via conference call and email. The monitoring program will characterize key water quality parameters to allow coastal managers to assess the potential impact of nutrients and other stressors on coral reef ecosystems, as well as to detect change.

Benefits of Our Work
These data will help coastal managers assess the potential threats of nutrients and sediments to coral reef health in the SEFCRI region. Also, long-term monitoring programs are able to detect changes in the ecosystem over time (e.g., due to coastal development, management activities, or climate change).

Next Steps
A report detailing the monitoring plan—including field and laboratory standard operating procedures, site locations, sampling frequency, and logistical implementation strategy—will be published in 2015. In FY16, water sampling will begin and continue through FY17. Data from the first two sampling years will be analyzed (statistically and geospatially), at which point changes may be required to the sampling plan. After FY17, the oversight of the sampling program will transition to SEFCRI partners.

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