Longterm Monitoring Helps Scientists Address Massive Gulf Corals Die-Off

Scientists are aggressively working to discover the cause of a massive coral reef die-off in the Gulf of Mexico and put into action recovery and restoration.

Last month, divers discovered the die-off in the East Bank of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary’s reefs are normally considered the healthiest in the Gulf, due to conservation efforts and its remote location of Mexico. Affected corals span 6.5 acres with some locations having 70% mortality, including several thousand dead coral colonies and countless numbers of reef invertebrates. Many of the dead colonies are over 1000 years old.

Rapid response work led by NOAA and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management scientists has included water chemistry testing, benthic and fish surveys and collection and analysis of more than 300 corals and sponges samples micro-organism communities and genetic markers. An essential tool is research from long-term monitoring, funded by NMSF. In 2011, NMSF began supporting annual scientific cruises to monitor the health of sanctuaries, particularly coral sites, marine resources and water quality. The data records conditions and detects early warning signs including impact of climate change and potential environmental crime. NMSF’s funding has accelerated as federal government spending on such monitoring has diminished.

Researchers believe the event has stabilized although its cause remains unknown. Monitoring continues, with NMSF committing additional funds to deploy Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) technology in the sanctuary and to support further monitoring in 2017.

To learn more: sign up to receive occasional updates from NMSF on conservation, policy, technology and other marine sanctuary subjects. You can also follow the situation through Flower Garden Banks NMS updated status report and video.