Restoring Coral Reefs at Dry Tortugas National Park

For three days in May of 2016, The Nature Conservancy and our partners jumped into 25 feet of water to continue our effort to restore staghorn coral at Dry Tortugas National Park. Our scientists have been working on coral restoration for twelve years and the program has achieved great success, with more than 10,000 staghorn corals outplanted throughout Florida’s waters.

Staghorn coral is among the fastest growing coral species on the reef, up to 10cm/yr. This threatened coral provides habitat to fish and other marine life due to its unique branching structure. The recently outplanted corals will be monitored in August for both survivorship and overall condition, which includes assessment of signs of predation, disease, and/or coral bleaching.

Previous staghorn coral outplantings have done very well within Dry Tortugas National Park, with an average 90% survivorship rate after 1 year.

Florida Reef System

The Florida Reef System (FRS) is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the continental US, spanning 358 miles from the Atlantic coast all the way to the Dry Tortugas.

Remote Location

Dry Tortugas National Park, a chain of seven small islands at the very end of the Florida Keys, is only accessible by plane or boat.

Teaming Up

The Conservancy’s Florida Keys team joined with marine scientists from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mote Marine Laboratory, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Nova Southeastern University and Dry Tortugas National Park.

Right Time, Right Place

Timing and conditions were just right to “outplant” more than 1,500 coral colonies that were cared for in our Dry Tortugas coral nursery.

Delicate Work

The team gently placed the colonies in carefully selected sites that would encourage them to thrive throughout the reefs in the Park.

Coral Garden

Tiny fragments of staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) are grown atop concrete blocks then transferred to the Parks’ coral reefs.

Future Looks Good

This outplanted coral, which was planted three years ago, shows how the fragments planted this year will grow over time.

New Life

Thanks to the coral restoration work of the Conservancy and partners, the reefs at Dry Tortugas are a thriving ecosystem — home to colorful parrotfish, angelfish, wrasses, barracuda, nurse sharks, stingrays, delicate corals, invertebrates, and sea turtles. Your support will help us restore and protect this precious marine habitat.

The team saw a roseate spoonbill on Garden Key within the Fort. This is a rare sighting!


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