~Former ship-grounding sites stabilized and restored to encourage habitat recovery~
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) has completed the first large-scale, agency-led coral reef restoration project in the Southeast Florida Reef Tract. CRCP spearheaded the Coral Reef Stabilization and Rehabilitation Project in response to unresolved damage originally caused by two commercial vessel groundings in 2006.
“This was an extremely successful collaboration with many dedicated partners, whose expertise and skills were invaluable,” said Kevin Claridge, director of DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “Through key partnerships, we were able to restore these ecologically sensitive and economically important habitats.”
Although emergency restoration was performed following the groundings, a 2011 study showed that the sites were not fully recovering because loose rubble was rolling around inhibiting coral and sponge growth. CRCP determined that agency-led restoration was necessary to stabilize the loose rubble and re-create the natural seafloor to enable habitat recovery.
This project was primarily funded by private settlements associated with the original coral reef injuries and supplemented with civil penalties collected through a provision in Florida’s Coral Reef Protection Act.
CRCP assembled a project team consisting of DEP, Nova Southeastern University and other agency coral reef specialists and contracted recognized experts to help with restoration. The team selected Olsen Associates, Inc., to assist with project design; Coastal Eco-Group, Inc., to provide construction oversight; and Callaway Marine Technologies, Inc., to perform the underwater construction, which included rubble collection, boulder placement and concrete grout to stabilize the two sites.
Prior to construction, Nova Southeastern University relocated all stony corals and octocorals greater than 5 centimeters to a safer location through funding from DEP and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Estuarine Subsection.
“The rubble removal and boulder placement have created a significantly more stable seafloor at the grounding sites, which now provide a safer habitat for corals and fish to live and thrive,” said Joanna Walczak, the Southeast regional administrator for DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “Olsen Associates, Coastal Eco-Group, Callaway Marine Technologies and all those involved did an excellent job. Each party contributed significant time and effort on this project and it really paid off.”
Nova Southeastern University has begun collecting long-term data at both restoration sites and DEP will continue future monitoring. Documentation of how and when these sites recover will be used to inform future reef restoration projects in this region. Additionally, the next phase of this project is planned to include biological restoration, such as transplanting more corals, octocorals and sponges to reflect a natural community composition.
About the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office (FCO) is responsible for oversight of the state’s 41 Aquatic Preserves, three National Estuarine Research Reserves, the Coral Reef Conservation Program, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Coastal Management Program and the Outer Continental Shelf Program. It is the mission of FCO to conserve and restore Florida’s coastal, ocean, and aquatic resources for the benefit of people and the environment. For more information, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/.