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NCCOS Project

Biogeographic Assessment to Characterize the Florida Keys Coral Reef Tract Ecosystem

This project began in January 2012 and is projected to be completed in September 2017

We are assessing the seafloor composition and the distribution of coral reef fish in the Florida Coral Reef Tract. By pairing the marine resources data with human-use information, we will provide coastal managers GIS-layered, site-specific databases, maps, and a map-based bibliography to help them make zoning and conservation decisions based on the best-available and most comprehensive science.

Why We Care
Coral reefs are among the world’s most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems, providing vital habitat and storm refuge for important fishes and invertebrates as well as food and recreational resources for people. Because coral reefs are under great stress from climate change, pollution, and fishing impacts, coastal managers in South Florida are reviewing zoning plans for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)and establishing stakeholder-recommended coral reef management actions as part of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI). These managers need biogeographic, physical, and socioeconomic data to manage resources along the Florida Coral Reef Tract.

What We Are Doing
We are evaluating and comparing coral reef ecosystems with varying levels of protection, from no-take to no protection. The main objectives of this study are to:

1. Develop maps showing the location of marine resources and human uses, including:

  • Commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important reef fish species (e.g., grouper, snapper, hogfish, grunt, parrotfish, herbivores, piscivores)
  • Corals, seagrasses, mangroves, benthic habitats, and composition
  • Essential fish habitats and critical habitats for species of concern (e.g., Acropora, lobster, queen conch, Diadema antillarum, black or long-spined sea urchin), fish spawning aggregation sites, and sea turtle foraging habitats
  • Persistent and ecologically important oceanographic and geographic features (eddies, gyres, and upwelling zones)
  • Socioeconomic and human use activities (e.g., commercial and recreational fishing, infrastructure, and use patterns of watercraft).

2. Develop a map-based bibliography on essential species and their governing regulations, policies, and jurisdictional authorities.
3. Identify common management goals, threats, problems, and gaps in management or regulated activities.

This project will provide data and information products on the marine resources that will support decisions made on management and zoning as well as providing feedback on how well the MPAs are doing. Partners who are providing in-kind support on this project include: Todd Kellison, National Marine Fisheries Service; Sean Morton, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (Atlantic); and Dana Wusinich-Mendez, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Benefits of Our Work
To date, we have compiled 25 GIS layers from six monitoring programs to describe coral reef composition, 10 GIS layers from five monitoring programs to describe seagrass composition, and 13 GIS layers from three monitoring programs to describe fish assemblages along the Florida Keys portion of the reef tract. These data layers were delivered to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to support the marine zoning and regulatory review of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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