Frequent Questions: Mission Iconic Reefs
Find answers to frequent questions about Restoring Seven Iconic Reefs: A Mission to Recover the Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys.
NOAA and partners have developed an unprecedented, decades-long approach to restore seven iconic coral reef sites in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Read more about the effort, Restoring Seven Iconic Reefs: A Mission to Recover the Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys.
Why do Florida Keys coral reefs need intervention and restoration efforts?
The Florida Keys have a long history of exploitation and impact. Many pressures on natural marine resources are chronic and, to some degree, cumulative. Today, pressures include:
- Vessel traffic
- Commercial and recreational fishing
- Disturbances to wildlife
- Coastal development
- Harmful algal blooms
- Coral disease
- Marine debris
- Invasive species
Factors such as climate change, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification are large-scale issues that also affect Florida Keys coral reefs. Management to reduce impacts of local- and regional-scale stressors can increase the resilience of the ecosystem.
Will there be an economic impact as a result of the Mission: Iconic Reefs project?
Healthy ecosystems are invaluable to the businesses and economy of South Florida and the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys Reef Tract is the only bank barrier coral reef in the continental United States. It provides significant support to the foundation of the bustling Florida Keys marine economy, and attracts more than 5 million visitors each year. These visitors support 4.7 billion in spending and income generated annually in the Keys. Losing Florida Keys reefs would result in cascading effects to the region’s economy and culture, which are firmly rooted in the health of the local marine ecosystem. Each component of the mission provides critical support to reaching the goal of improving the ecosystem function of the seven iconic Keys reefs. This will allow the reef systems can continue into the future, providing habitat for countless marine organisms, coastline protection, and supporting ample tourism opportunities.
How were the seven Iconic Reef sites selected?
The sites were selected from a set of 37 reefs identified as high-priority sites for restoration by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. The council represents the broad range of sanctuary users and constituents. It provides recommendations to NOAA on management priorities and actions including ecosystem restoration. A group of coral reef scientists, restoration practitioners, and resource managers further refined this list of 37 sites to seven highest-priority sites. They used biological and socioeconomic criteria, including biodiversity and habitat composition, connectivity to other habitat types, allowable and compatible human uses, and current enforcement and compliance activities.
With the ongoing stony coral tissue loss disease (STCLD), why would we focus the time and money to do in-water restoration when we still don't know what is causing the disease outbreak or how to stop it?
Mission: Iconic Reefs utilizes a phased approach. Coral species that are not susceptible to the SCTLD, such as elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), are reared and outplanted in the first phase of the plan. Many of the SCTLD-susceptible species are the focus of a coral rescue effort involving a broad range of partners. They are identified for the second phase of the plan, based on the assumption that more knowledge about both SCTLD and coral propagation techniques for these species will be available at that point. The initiative is designed to outplant corals that are stronger, more resistant and resilient to stressors. The parent corals that will be used to propagate the outplants will be the genetic survivors of previous disease and warm water events.
Water quality continues to be an issue in Florida and the Keys, why would we conduct in-water restoration on the reef for it to be impacted by poor water quality later on?
Regionally, efforts are being made to address water quality impacts in the Florida Keys and the broader South Florida/Everglades ecosystem, which have contributed to the ongoing decline. Regional and local water quality improvements need to occur in parallel, for long term success and survivability of restoration efforts. Proactive coral restoration is still essential to begin rebuilding and re-establishing reproductively viable populations that can withstand environmental stressors.
What resources has NOAA already provided towards coral reef restoration in Florida Keys? What are the primary funding sources?
NOAA has been supporting active coral reef restoration since the early 2000s. We have provided seed money to the first-ever efforts in the region. NOAA staff have invested significant staff time to date. They are committed to do so into the future to support the development and implementation of Mission: Iconic Reefs.
Additionally, NOAA pioneered coral restoration activities in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary with responding to acute injuries from vessel groundings. Settlements from vessel grounding cases provided for restoration of those sites. FKNMS also developed some of the coral rescue techniques used to proactively remove corals from seawalls or other areas that may be impacted by construction. More recently, NOAA’s Restoration Center, the Coral Reef Conservation Program and FKNMS have funded the development and implementation of coral nursery technology and outplanting work. This provides the fundamental basics for this effort. While successful at small scales, the existing work has not been sufficient to keep up with the decline, hence this more comprehensive effort.
NOAA Restoration Center and the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program have awarded $5.3 million in grants to two primary restoration practitioners in the Keys. This funding will be used over the next three years (FY19 - FY21) for large-scale restoration and coral disease response work. This is in addition to two previous cooperative agreements for restoration in the Florida Keys since 2013 that totaled nearly $3 million. NOAA will be focusing available funding to support this effort and work with outside partners to coordinate their fundraising and restoration priorities.
How will this effort be funded?
Mission: Iconic Reefs is a decades-long effort that will rely on the work and support of numerous partners, investors, and interested stakeholders. Over the next year, NOAA will focus available funding to support this effort and work with outside partners to secure additional public and private funds. Active restoration will begin immediately by scaling-up the propagation of quick growing elkhorn and staghorn coral species. Research and development of restoration methods for the other stony coral species will occur simultaneously to support later phases. NOAA and our partners will be working hard over the next year to secure both public and private funding for implementation.
The estimated cost and resource requirements outlined in Phase 1 are provided to give a “sense of scale” of the effort. Ultimately, it is expected that a mix of public and private resources will need to come together to provide the financial support for implementation. All of the partners involved in this effort recognize that to secure the resources needed for large scale coral restoration, a comprehensive restoration plan was needed.
Is this plan an opportunity for philanthropists and foundations to support restoration in the Florida Keys?
Absolutely. It’s ultimately expected that funding for this effort will come from a variety of sources and private organizations that recognize the importance of this work and the need to ensure its success. Additionally, most public and some private sector funds require 1:1 or greater match. This makes funding from philanthropists and foundations critical to the mission’s success.
How will this effort be organized moving forward?
The execution of this effort through time will require an adaptive management approach. It will be driven by advancements in restoration science, funding availability and the capacity of restoration practitioners. We envision this effort being supported through many public and private funding streams and executed in pieces by individual partners. We anticipate establishing a “Iconic Reefs Restoration Governance Structure” that brings together management entities, resource trustees, restoration implementation partners, and core funders in various capacities to support implementation. While the formal governance structure is still to be determined its goals will be:
- Implementation strategy development and coordination (i.e. who is doing what, where.).
- Coordination of individual and joint fundraising efforts.
- Integration of latest restoration science and project results into an adaptive management strategy.
Specific to funding coordination, this effort will need to establish procedures and coordination to allow for the integration of:
- Existing partner resources and funding (i.e. existing grants, etc.).
- Funding and resources that become available for the effort holistically (i.e., funds identified by and/or raised by the council).
- Funding solicited and/or received directly to partner organizations (i.e., individual fundraising).
Who are the partners and what are the different roles of organizations involved in Mission: Iconic Reefs?
Partners play a crucial role in Mission: Iconic Reefs. By working closely with world-renowned scientists, local restoration partners, other federal and state agencies, NOAA will continue to expand the network of action to put Florida Keys reefs on a path to recovery. The roles of organizations in Mission: Iconic Reefs involve the following four major types of activities.
Ocean-Based Restoration Practitioners
The organizations that will provide the bulk of the coral fragments and in-water restoration work for the completion of Phase 1. Additionally, these organizations are likely to be involved in site preparation, monitoring, and stewardship.
- Coral Restoration Foundation.
- Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.
- Reef Renewal.
Land-based Restoration Practitioners
The organizations that will augment the in-water farms with slower growing species, corals that have been screened for resilience, and corals that have been bred to increase genetic diversity.
- Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.
- The Florida Aquarium.
The development of new techniques and tools are key to the success of this effort. We have partnered with a number of organizations to support the development of new techniques, to ensure the best science is guiding our decisions, and that relevant restoration research that is currently in the experimental phases is later incorporated into Mission: Iconic Reefs.
- The Nature Conservancy
- Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
- University of Florida
- University of Miami
- Nova Southeastern University
Resource Management, Stewardship, and Governance
The success of this effort will depend on the interconnected work of numerous partners, investors, and interested stakeholders. These efforts and related resource management and restoration site stewardship will be coordinated by:
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
Will access to, or activities allowed, at the Iconic Reef Sites change? Will there be any restrictions on diving and boating at the restoration sites?
Mission: Iconic Reefs is not a management or regulatory effort and therefore, does not require any new access or use restrictions. Six of the seven restoration sites are already within existing Sanctuary Preservation Areas, zoned to protect shallow reefs under the existing regulations and management plans. All seven of the sites have mooring buoys to prevent anchor damage from boaters. Any such restrictions would be through the existing management authorities and decisions from the FKNMS. During active restoration work, there may be temporary access changes such as the temporary removal of mooring buoys. This would allow for the work to be completed efficiently and safely. Mooring buoys would be returned when stewardship and maintenance activities start at the sites following active restoration work. The public will be given ample notice should any of these types of restrictions be needed.
The mission will also have a long-term community stewardship component. This is designed to utilize local businesses designated as Blue Star Operators who will offer opportunities for volunteer involvement. Blue Star Operators are committed to responsible tourism, promoting sustainable diving and fishing practices in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The mission will require active engagement from the diving and boating community. It will benefit from mobilizing local marine stewards and visitors to assist with invasive species removal and long-term nursery and outplant maintenance. This may actually increase some of the access and user engagement with certain reefs.
How is Mission: Iconic Reefs connected to the Restoration Blueprint, of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary?
The Restoration Blueprint, the draft environmental impact statement and draft management plan, addresses the comprehensive resource protection and resource management needs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This includes support for ecosystem restoration of corals and other habitats. Mission: Iconic Reefs is not a new regulatory action. Rather, it is designed to complement the Restoration Blueprint to put Florida Keys reefs on a path to recovery. The activities proposed under the mission can be implemented under the existing sanctuary regulations. Six of the seven Iconic sites are within existing Sanctuary Preservation Areas, and the seventh site falls within the Key Largo Existing Management Area. Per guidance from the community and the Sanctuary Advisory Council, the Restoration Blueprint does propose alternatives that would create four small new Sanctuary Preservation Areas to protect existing coral restoration nurseries and restoration field trials from anchor damage.
Is Mission: Iconic Reefs related at all to the recently-published National Academies of Science review on coral reef resilience intervention strategies?
Yes, a key element of this plan, and more specifically the Site Implementation Plans (which will be developed in 2020), will be the incorporation of strategies to promote genetic diversity and resilience. This will ensure that the corals used in this effort have the best chance of surviving in an increasingly changing ocean environment.