Florida coral restoration project appears successful

Coral reefs are continuing to disappear around the world due to terrestrial runoff, nutrient enrichment, global warming, recreational/commercial fishing impacts, and other causes.

Jacksonville, Florida, April 29, 2004 -- Coral reefs are continuing to disappear around the world due to terrestrial runoff, nutrient enrichment, global warming, recreational/commercial fishing impacts, and other causes. In Florida alone, 37 percent of coral colonies have been lost in the past 20 years because of the trends described above.

However, a reef construction project is proving that human efforts can accelerate the establishment of new coral reefs. Four years ago PBS&J, one of the nation's leading engineering and environmental consulting firms, launched a coral reef restoration project in connection with the installation of five submarine telecommunications cables off the coast of southeast Florida. The project is being funded by the co-owners of those cables.

The first part of the project involved the reattachment to the ocean floor of a number of hard corals that were dislocated when the cables were lowered to the bottom. Four years later, more than 95 percent of the reattached coral is thriving, with no evidence of bleaching or coral disease.

The second part of the project involved the installation and subsequent careful monitoring of 30 artificial reef modules. The modules were placed in an area where coral had been extensively damaged by a prior ship grounding. The good news from four years of biological monitoring is that the modules not only have attracted fish and other swimming species, but also are becoming naturally encrusted with live corals, algae, mollusks, and sponges.

To create the reef modules, marine engineers stacked concrete pipes pyramid-style on concrete platforms and then attached chunks of local calcium carbonate rock. Using a barge, these modules were placed on the bottom in five groups of six modules. Their configuration simulates the spur-and-groove pattern of the leading edge of natural reef systems in south Florida.

On the artificial reefs, there now is a dense array of new recruited coral, algae, mollusks, and sponges. More than 10 species of corals and 50 species of fish and motile invertebrates have developed habitat around the manmade reefs. Snapper, wrasses, goatfish, grunts, chromis, and gobies were the most abundant fish observed during recent monitoring operations.

"The Florida restoration project is a breakthrough that may serve as a model for similar restoration around the world," said Donald Deis, PBS&J project manager and lead marine scientist. "It proves that manmade reef structures, properly constructed and situated, can recruit new corals, fish, and other species surprisingly quickly. While we must address directly what's causing coral losses worldwide, we can also offset those losses in part through projects like this."

PBS&J is a provider of infrastructure planning, engineering, construction management, and program management services. The employee-owned firm is ranked by Engineering News-Record as 21st among the nation's top consulting firms. PBS&J has 3,300 employees and 60 offices located throughout the U.S. and abroad.

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