|Underwater Coastal Cleanup
Reef Rescue partners with regulatory agencies, private interest groups, businesses, fishing and dive clubs to sponsor and coordinate reef cleanup projects. Volunteers document and catalogue debris, trash and abandon fishing gear recovered from the coastal ecosystem. Reef Rescue supports training programs designed to minimize risk to both divers and the environment during cleanup operations.
Acropora Coral Mapping & Recovery
Reef Rescue participated in petitioning the federal government to add corals of the genus Acropora to the Endangered Species List. In May 2005, NOAA Fisheries Service announced its decision to list Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.; this is the first time a coral has been listed under the ESA. The listing was warranted for both Elkhorn and Staghorn corals since it was determined both are likely to become endanger of extinction throughout all of their range in the foreseeable future.
Since the 1980ís Florida has lost an estimated 97% of its Acropora coral population. Palm Beach County represents the northern limit of Staghorn coral growth along the US coastline. Reef Rescue has been invited by the National Marine Fisheries Division of NOAA to participate as a member on the Acropora Recovery Team. Reef Rescue is now actively mapping the locations of the remaining Staghorn coral colonies on the Palm Beach County reef system.
Coral Disease Monitoring
The corals of Florida and the greater Caribbean basin are subject to multiple stressors including temperature-induced bleaching, physical damage from hurricanes, damage from commercial and recreational activities, sediments and contaminants from land-based sources and poor water quality. These effects are cumulative and result in an increased incidence of coral disease. The reefs of Palm Beach County have not been spared this plight and the presences of White Band/White Plague disease on Brain Corals was observed by Reef Rescue divers during 2006. Working with researchers from Florida International University, Reef Rescue has begun collecting coral tissue samples to help identify the cause of these recent outbreaks.
In addition to disease there is an increased incidence of Cliona Boring Sponges attacking coral colonies on Palm Beach County reefs. The presence of Boring Sponges is generally considered an indicator of fecal pollution.
Maze Coral Bleaching Research
Corals depend on pigmented unicellular algae (zooxanthellae) found within their tissue to produce food. Under stress corals expel the zooxantheallae which leads to a white appearance called bleaching. Recent worldwide increases in coral mortality from thermal stress bleaching have been linked to global warming
Reef Rescue has discovered what appears to be a unique aspect of coral bleaching on the Palm Beach County reef system. Since 1999 Reef Rescue divers have been monitoring coral bleaching of Maze coral (Meandrina meandrites) offshore of Boynton Beach, Florida. Unlike stress induced bleaching, the Boynton Beach Maze bleaching and recovery occurs on a predictable annual cycle triggered by day-length. This unique characteristic of coral biology holds promise for researchers to help better understand one of the most significant threats facing worldwide coral reef survival.
Little documentation exists regarding the distribution and health of coral colonies on the reefs of Palm Beach County. Until the recent development of LADs imagery in 2004, no reliable maps of the Palm Beach County coral reef ecosystem were available. There is a critical need to document, catalog and establish baseline conditions of the local reefs to aid in the development of management strategies. Reef Rescue is embarking on a reef survey program to record coral health, diversity and distribution using video documentation interfaced with satellite based Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.