Florida’s Coral Reef is an integral part of Florida’s Way of Life
From our beaches, mangroves, and seagrasses to our surfers, divers, fishers and beach lovers, Florida’s Coral Reef is a delicately balanced and interconnected community.
Floridians and visitors alike benefit from healthy and productive coral reefs. It’s up to us to help ensure that a strong and balanced community ecosystem exists now and into the future. Coral reefs protect our coast, provide a home for the seafood we eat and sustain our tourism-based economy.
Corals – The Animals That Build and Live on Florida’s Coral Reef
Corals are some of the most unique and oldest living animals found on the planet. Living close to our beaches, they construct massive reefs, often called the “rainforests of the sea,” that support a rich and diverse web of life in our ocean.
Corals are animals that range in size from a pinhead to a DVD. They can live as individual animals called polyps or in large communities containing thousands of individuals. Most corals grow extremely slowly, adding less than an inch each year. A single community – called a colony – can live for hundreds of years. The oldest known colony in southeast Florida is over 300 years old!
Our coral reefs are made up of two different types of corals:
Stony corals have calcium-based, limestone skeletons and are the primary reef-building corals. New colonies grow on top of old colonies, which, over time, build the reef foundation.
Soft corals include sea fans and sea whips. Soft corals don’t have a hard limestone skeleton, so they don’t add to the reef foundation. Their flexible skeleton allows them to sway with the waves and ocean currents.
Like all animals, corals are limited by their surroundings. The main factors affecting coral growth are temperature, depth, light, salinity, water quality and currents. Small changes in any of these factors can affect a coral’s growth.
Florida’s Coral Reef Under Stress
Florida’s Coral Reef is susceptible to global and local stressors, including impacts associated with coastal construction, poor water quality, irresponsible fishing and diving practices, vessel groundings and anchor drags and marine debris impacts, to name a few.
Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Outbreak
Florida’s Coral Reef is experiencing a multi-year outbreak of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. While disease outbreaks are not uncommon, this event is unique due to its large geographic range, extended duration, rapid progression, high rates of mortality and the number of reef-building coral species that are affected.
First reported off the coast of Miami-Dade County in 2014, this outbreak has spread along Florida’s Coral Reef and to reefs in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Mexico, St. Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are leading the collaborative response effort that involves dozens of partners from federal, state, and local agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities, and members of the community to investigate and solve this problem.
For more information and in-depth descriptions of the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease response effort in Florida, visit the DEP Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Response website.
For more general information, news, and media about the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease outbreak and response visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Disease website.