The Florida Reef System (FRS) is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the continental US. It spans 358 miles in Southeast Florida, from the Dry Tortugas off Key West, north to Martin County. The FRT is home to many inhabitants including several coral species listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
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The Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP), the largest coordinated coral condition monitoring program in the world, has just reached its ten-year milestone. A great achievement for a truly collaborative effort, FRRP brings together more than a dozen federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and university partners*, to improve and sustain the health of Florida’s coral reefs and the industries that depend on them.
“In ten years, FRRP has a achieved a strong record of accomplishments including informing reef managers, providing data to support science-based decision making, and creating an incredible team of experts across organizations who work together seamlessly towards the health and protection of Florida’s coral reefs,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Meaghan Johnson, Marine Science Coordinator.
The FRRP grew from a unique partnership that was created in 2004, linking Australia’s renowned Great Barrier Reef and the United States’ beautiful Florida Reef System. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) joined with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in a cooperative effort to improve coral reef resilience (the ability to recover after disturbance) and ensure the long-term sustainability of coral reefs. Since both the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park managed beautiful, abundant coral reefs that faced similar challenges, the partnership was a natural fit for an exchange of knowledge to enhance coral reef management effectiveness and promote stewardship, and further the health of the coral reef ecosystems through the use of sound science. In 2005 the Florida Reef Resilience Program was born, spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy, since our organization was armed with experience in resilience-based coral reef science and conservation in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. FRRP is one component of The Nature Conservancy’s international Reef Resilience Network, which brings together managers from around the world and strengthens their ability to protect and manage coral reefs.
The Florida Reef System (FRS), the largest coral reef ecosystem in the continental US, includes extensive shallow coral reefs and spans 358 miles, from the Dry Tortugas off Key West, north to Martin County. The reef ecosystem is home to many inhabitants including coral species listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. FRRP’s stewardship of the FRS includes work to identify and track the health and status of coral reefs, understand underlying factors that lead to and maintain resilience, and inform efforts to reduce negative impacts and stressors on reefs.
Florida Keys coral and fish. © Jiangang Luo
Throughout FRRP’s history, partners have successfully worked together in four main program areas:
Disturbance Response Monitoring – FRRP collects and analyzes data reflecting the health of corals, including episodes of coral bleaching and disease, which were unfortunately prevalent and damaging to the reef in 2014 and 2015. The DRM program was developed to monitor shallow coral reefs from the Dry Tortugas to Martin County during times of peak thermal stress.
In 2015, DRM surveyors included researchers from The Nature Conservancy, Mote Marine Laboratory, University of Miami, Nova Southeastern University, Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, FDEP, NOAA, and National Park Service (NPS). View the DRM Report to discover our findings.
Human Dimensions of Reef Resilience – FRRP works with the reef user community and university scientists to understand how Florida’s reefs are being used, and to evaluate the impacts of changing reef conditions on recreational and commercial reef users and the economy.
Communications and Outreach – FRRP provides relevant information to the media, natural resource management advisory bodies and other interested groups. The program leads and contributes to peer reviewed scientific publications and maintains a robust FRRP website.
Among the many key findings and reports generated by FRRP, in 2010 partners created a plan to guide coordination of reef management through ongoing climate change and ocean acidification. The “Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Coral Reef System: 2010-2015” identified reef management strategies, adaptation needs for reef-dependent industries and opportunities to strengthen the scientific foundation for decision-making.
Supporting Coral Reef Management and Sustainable Uses – FRRP provides technical information from the DRM and Human Dimensions efforts directly to reef managers and reef users for use in reef management plans. FRRP data is being used in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s ongoing regulatory review process and in the Our Florida Reefs working groups focused on the reefs off the mainland from Miami through Martin County.
“All of the FRRP partners share the vision of beautiful and productive coral reefs, that are healthy and sustainable for all of the reef inhabitants, as well as for the recreational and commercial industries which rely on them,” said Chris Bergh, The Nature Conservancy’s South Florida Conservation Director. “With ten years of stewardship, knowledge, and accomplishments propelling us, we look forward to continuing our understanding of reef resilience and developing strategies to secure the future of the reefs.”
In commemoration of the program’s anniversary, partners and scientists will come together in January 2016 to participate in a day long 10-Year Anniversary Symposium which will include sessions focused on Florida’s coral reefs, program priorities, current and future projects, tools and collected data, and goals and direction of the FRRP. This symposium is just one of many workshops and conferences coordinated by FRRP to provide an opportunity to share knowledge with reef managers both in and outside the US, including Australia and the Wider Caribbean.
FRRP enters 2016 with a renewed commitment to securing the future of Florida’s coral reefs, and a mission to keep the reefs healthy, resilient, and economically sustainable.
* FRRP Program Partners: The Nature Conservancy, Biscayne National Park, Broward County, Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Martin County, Miami-Dade County, Mote Marine Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Nova Southeastern University, Palm Beach County, Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of South Florida Institute for Marine Remote Sensing