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Fisher Island Corals & The Saga of The Deep Dredge (Part 1 of 3)

Aerial view of Biscayne Bay, Government Cut, and Fisher Island encircled in deep dredge silt Over the past eighteen months, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Deep Dredge of PortMiami has continuously released dirty water throughout Biscayne Bay and onto our surrounding reefs. The dredging will continue until at least August 2015. Over the course of the Dredge we have observed levels of suspended silt far beyond what is environmentally acceptable or healthy in a coral reef environment, and in areas well outside the area where the Army Corps predicted. One of Coral Morphologic’s biggest concerns during the Deep Dredge has been the well-being of the hybrid fused-staghorn coral (Acropora prolifera) colonizing the Fisher Island side of Government Cut. This coral is what kickstarted our interest in documenting the extent of coral colonization within Miami’s coastal waterways, and was the subject of Colin’s 2011 TEDxMIA talk. The concerns we expressed to the State of Florida about this coral is ultimately what led them to provide us with permits to rescue corals from the dredging far offshore… but not for the hybrid itself (or any other corals on Fisher Island). [embedded content] Colin’s 2011 TEDxMIA talk on Hybrid Acropora living within Miami city limits In addition to this highly unusual hybrid Acropora coral living within the shipping channel, we have found a variety of other Acroporid corals living on the seawalls of Fisher Island. There are at least three colonies of federally-protected Elkhorn corals (Acropora palmata) and 2 different morphotypes of hybrid Acropora prolifera. As far as we know, Coral Morphologic are the only researchers documenting these critically important corals growing along man-made shorelines in Florida. Typically, elkhorn corals are found miles offshore on the outer reef crest where they receive clean water and strong water movement. Elkhorn corals were once the most important reef-building corals in the Caribbean, and the most effective coral species at dissipating hurricane storm surges for coastal communities. But since the early 1980’s more than 95% of the populations across the region have succumbed to highly infectious diseases. One such disease, white pox, has even been proven to be a human gut pathogen transmitted to the elkhorn coral via human waste from leaky septic tanks and offshore piping of sewage. In fact, white pox is the first known pathogen to be transmitted from a human to a marine invertebrate species. Over the past 5 years we have watched as these colonies of elkhorn coral wax and wane. Some years they will show remarkable growth, while another year they lose multiple sub-colony branches to white pox. However, over the past year (during the Deep Dredge), we have observed a precipitously steep decline in their health. We now feel that their survival is endangered enough by the continuing dredge silt that their plight needs to made public, and that their long-term well-being is ensured. [embedded content] Fisher Island Elkhorn Coral pre-dredge/ mid-dredge health survey It should be noted that the Virginia Key Wastewater Treatment Plant sits just ½ mile (760 m) away across Norris Cut… putting these corals within potential reach of air or waterborne contamination. Furthermore, these elkhorn corals are living on the outside of the Fisher Island marina which houses a multitude of luxury yachts, along with the occasional sewage, petroleum, or chemical spill. Despite it being less than a square kilometer in size, luxurious Fisher Island features a 9-hole golf course and lush landscaping indicative of frequent fertilizer use and runoff. The likelihood of the Federally-protected elkhorn coral self-recruiting and growing to adult size in such a manmade environment defies conventional logic when taking all these factors into consideration. Therefore, these particular elkhorn corals on Fisher Island could be invaluable to the scientific understanding of the adaptability, resilience, and restoration potential of such a keystone coral species. Furthermore, the elkhorn corals of Fisher Island are surviving in an extremely shallow sub-tidal zone where they are subject to direct sunlight and intense UV radiation. At one point in time these colonies were up to 1.5 meters in diameter. What appears now to be multiple independent branches of living elkhorn coral are all that remain of a previously contiguous mother colony. Partial die-off of coral colonies presents a dilemma for coral researchers, as it can create the illusion of multiple smaller colonies, when actually they are all clones of each other. One upside to having discontiguous colony for research is that a single branch can be removed for transplantation without risking the rest of the colony to a subsequent infection. In the past year, both of the elkhorn colonies living on the Norris Cut side of Fisher Island have demonstrated significant mortality, and evidence of white pox. Both colonies have undergone approximately 60-70% mortality since the dredging began, but appear to have stabilized during the previous cooler months. Without direct intervention we are concerned that these elkhorn colonies may not survive through summer 2015. More distressing is the clear evidence of dredge silt that has lethally smothered neighboring brain and star corals that were simply rested horizontally onto boulders when transplanted there by Army Corps subcontractors. Upon trying to fan off the silt that was choking these corals, we noticed that many were not even cemented in place as required. Rather, they were simply placed on the flat upper surfaces of the seawall boulders and left to their own devices. Even a small storm (let along a hurricane) can easily flip these unattached corals off their perches and upside down in the sediment. Whoever was paid to transplant these corals did a completely negligent job, and without any regard for the future success and settlement of the corals. An unacceptable number of these corals have already died from dredge sediment stress or simply from being dislodged from their perches. Some accountability is required for the deaths of these corals. [embedded content] Fisher Island silt-smothered coral survey Read more about our proposed solution to ensure the future survival of Fisher Island’s unique Acropora corals in Part 2. Tags: Coral Morphologic, Fisher Island, Miami This entry was posted on Thursday, May 21st, 2015 at 4:55 pm and is filed under Research. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. 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Friday Rewind Anatomy Lesson

Today we will review an important coral anatomy lesson. Did you know that corals have a dual use mouth-anus combo? It’s true! Sometimes, when we refer to certain LPS coral or Zoanthids, we talk about mouths or eyes. But the label “mouth” is only half true. Folks, what we’re really talking about is mouths AND butts. It’s entirely accurate to say “How many butts does that Acan colony have?” In celebration of this two way street, enjoy this musical treat!   … More:

Eshopps Announces New Channel Design (ECD) Sumps

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Eshopps has just released a new line of sumps that integrate their Channel Design system to optimize the flow pattern in the system.  Instead of a standard trickle/overflow system where the water moves from one area to the next, the ECD sumps force the water through the various sections through some clever engineering and acrylic work.  The pattern allows for the water to have a nice slow route through the fuge or filtration area before returning to the tank.  You can check out the intended use below.  Be sure to reach out to our friends at Eshopps for more info!.
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Marine Aquarium Photography: Post Processing of Coral Images

There is no such thing as an unprocessed “image,” but the degree of said processing can vary greatlyOften the subject of heated online debate is the post processing of coral photos—the manipulation of the coral image by software to tweak color and exposure levels. Post processing of coral images is a particularly hot-button issue because it is possible to abuse it. Hobbyists unfamiliar with the practice may decide to purchase a coral online based on a stunning photo and be disappointed once they receive it because the photo was the result of heavy post processing. Half the equationSome in the reefkeeping hobby associate post processing with deceptive trade practices, which is unfortunate because post processing is merely a tool. That may be an understatement because post processing is half of digital photography. Let me repeat that: Post processing is half of photography. Let’s say, for example, that you are hiring a wedding photographer and the first candidate proclaims he doesn’t do any post processing and whatever comes straight out of the camera is what makes it to print.

Battle of the Blue Heron Bridge: Personal aquarium collection

Blue Heron Bridge

Blue Heron Bridge

 While at the Eastern Academy of Scuba Education (EASE), located in Vero Beach, FL, I quickly learned about the Blue Heron Bridge. The bridge is an intercostal waterway just inside the Lake Worth Inlet. In Florida, it’s become a sort of shore diving legend among divers. For macro-photographers the bridge is legendary as a spot to get close ups of seahorses, frogfish, pipefish and even octopus and squid. While attending EASE, I had the pleasure of visiting the bridge a few times and it somehow reminded me of the shore diving atmosphere on the island of Bonaire, just with a lot more traffic, no gin clear water or beautiful female Dutch dive masters; okay it didn’t remind me of Bonaire. Recently though, the Blue Heron Bridge has erupted in locked horns between divers and those collecting fish for their marine aquarium. … More:

Captive Grown Coral Colonies

Here is a captive grown colony of Cortez Favia. 7 Polyps to full colony in 1 year.

Here is a captive grown colony of Cortez Favia. 7 Polyps to full colony in 1 year.

 One of my life goals is to become a key player in the restoration of coral reefs. Until that time comes, I get to play pretend with one of the world’s largest thriving reef tanks, Joe Yaiullo’s 20,000 gallon behemoth. Last year, Joe noticed how several of our (ReefGen’s) Cortez Favia frags had fused into large, healthy colonies, and asked me to make him one for his tank. I happily agreed. As an aside, this technique is also used by Jamie Craigs from the Horniman Museum and Aquarium to produce spawning-size Acropora colonies in a short amount of time.… More:

Diving Through Swaying Gorgonians in Curacao

ABOUT Avid outdoorsman and underwater photographer, Barry Brown has spent the last ten years documenting life above and below water in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. He is currently working with the Smithsonian Institution documenting new Caribbean deep-water species and building a one of a kind database. His underwater images can regularly be seen in Sport Diver, Scuba Diver and on the Ikelite website. His image of a "Collage of Corals" seen under blue-light at night recently placed in the TOP 10 images for the 2014 NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) photo contest. Pages

Update: The Vote is in and Japanese Zoos Will Not Use Taiji Dolphins

tajiLast week I wrote about the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) voting on whether to keep buying dolphins from the notorious town of Taiji (made famous by the movie ‘the cove).  The latest update to the article is that the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) issued a letter to Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA).  The letter essentially informed Jaza that they would need to stop using dolphins caught in the Taiji hunt or WAZA would suspend the Japanese organization’s membership. In response JAZA stated it would suspend use of the Taiji Dolphins. This move has been applauded by conservation groups . MOREMore:

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