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Reef Ecology Unit

We research fish species to better understand, monitor, and manage the Southeast Atlantic, U.S. Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystems.


Fish Ecology Overview

Our research program uses fishery-independent and fishery-dependent data to describe how natural (biological and physical) and anthropogenic factors affect marine fishes.  Critical topics we research include evaluating how overfishing, habitat degradation, and fisheries management strategies affect both exploited species and the overall community structure.

We use collected scientific data to advise local, state and federal management organizations in the region, including the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI), NOAA Fisheries Stock Assessments, Fishery Management Councils, and the National Marine Sanctuary Program.

Ongoing Research

We currently conduct fishery-independent coral reef fish surveys (Reef Visual Census, RVC protocol) and coral surveys as part of the Coral Reef Conservation Program’s (CRCP @NOAACoral) National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP).  As part of this research we co-lead missions with National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and work with numerous federal, state, local, and territorial partners including NPS, FWC (includes RVC sampling video), and University of Miami (RSMAS).  Our biennial sampling regime includes:



Florida & Gulf of Mexico Coral Reef Tracts (sampled even years)

  1. Florida Keys

  2. Dry Tortugas 

  3. SEFCRI region (Miami-Dade to Martin County)

  4. Flower Garden Banks

U.S. Caribbean Coral Reefs (sampled odd years)

  1. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John)

  2. Puerto Rico

Results from our research are publically available and can be accessed for all NCRMP jurisdictions online. The current raw data format is best suited for academics and professional fisheries scientists. We designed a RVC package in R to compute summary statistics.

Research Importance

Our team started fishery-independent SCUBA surveys in the Florida Keys in 1980.  Throughout the years, our long-term surveys have changed in frequency, increased in number and regions surveyed, and have been improved to use a sophisticated habitat-stratified sampling design.  The data we collect has provided both valuable and much needed information to many different management groups. For example, data from these surveys have been used in stock assessments for reef-associated species in Florida (e.g., yellowtail snapper) and evaluated the effectiveness of marine reserves and in the National Parks and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Additional previous research projects that have added to our understanding of the marine ecosystem have included the use of acoustic telemetry to describe fish movements and habitat utilization and interviews with commercial fishers to gain a long-term perspective of the fishery.  We are always looking for new projects that address important biological and fisheries management concerns.



Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on January 11, 2022