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Protect Our Reefs

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Why are living corals important?

"Coral reefs are incredible natural resources that support the economy while providing opportunities for recreation, education, scientific research and public inspiration. The fish we catch rely on corals to build the reef structure where they can breed and grow. Current medicines that combat cancer, pain and inflammation have also been derived from coral reef organisms. The total tourism value of Florida's Coral Reef is estimated at $1.1 billion annually. Coral reefs are estimated to annually support 71,000 jobs in South Florida. 

Healthy and resilient coral reefs safeguard against extreme weather, shoreline erosion and coastal flooding. Florida’s Coral Reef provides more than $355 million/year in flood protection benefits to buildings and protects nearly $320 million in annual economic activity (Storlazzi et al. 2019).


South Florida’s economy and way of life are inextricably linked to the coral reef ecosystem. The reefs provide habitat for species that are valuable to commercial and recreational fisheries, serve as a new frontier for biomedical research, attract tourists who bolster our economy, and protect our coastlines from storms and flooding.

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The Coral Reef Conservation Program manages the northern section of the reef, from the St. Lucie Inlet to the northern border of Biscayne National Park known as the Kristin Jacobs Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area. These reefs support a rich and diverse assemblage of stony corals, octocorals, macroalgae, sponges and fishes. The Coral Reef Conservation Program coordinates research and monitoring, develops management strategies and promotes partnerships to protect the coral reefs, hardbottom communities and associated reef resources along Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties.

Through its role in supporting Florida's membership on the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and the U.S. All Islands Committee, the Coral Reef Conservation Program leads the implementation of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative and contributes to the National Action Plan to conserve coral reefs. The Coral Reef Conservation Program is also charged with coordinating response to vessel groundings and anchor damage incidents in southeast Florida, and developing strategies to prevent coral reef injuries."

"The northern extent of the Southeast Florida Reef Tract is fairly unique, in part because it is exists where temperate and tropical climates overlap. It is characterized by wormrock, hard corals, algaes, and numerous fish species of commercial and recreational importance.  

As compared to its neighbors to the south, Martin County has a lower diversity and density of stony corals and deep water corals as well as different fish species, a mix of temperate and tropical species.

Unlike in other areas, the stony corals found in Martin County typically do not reach significant height. The one species that does grow tall, Oculina varicosa, unfortunately is more susceptible to being impacted by fishing gear. One unique, although not positive, feature of the County’s stony corals is that through many years of monitoring there has never been an indication of reproduction.  

Although the reefs in Martin County exist throughout the southern portion of the County, St. Lucie Reef is the most well documented. It is 4.5 miles long and home to:

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"Reef Conservation Tips

Tens of thousands of divers descend on the Florida Reef each year, so coral-friendly diving practices are essential. It is vital that you avoid touching the corals with hands, fins, or gear. Here are some tips to avoid contact:

  • Learn how much weight is ideal to get you to the bottom. Practice your buoyancy skills before diving on coral reefs.

  • Swim at an attitude parallel to the reef to avoid kicking it with your fins. Shallow artificial reefs are good places to practice.

  • You will enjoy a longer, safer dive if you hover a bit above the reef. The air in your SCUBA tank will actually last longer.

  • Clip the alternate second stage regulator (octopus) to your Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) so that it does not drag across the reef. This goes for lobster hunting gear as well.

  • When diving for lobsters, wear gloves to protect your hands, and if you must touch the reef, please do not touch corals.

  • Spearfishermen—if you need to sit on the bottom to reload or float a fish to the surface, find a sandy spot to settle on.

  • It is imperative that you clean your gear when moving to different areas along the reef. Microbial organisms can hitch a ride on unwashed dive gear, spreading disease from dive to dive. It is important to disinfect wetsuits, masks, fins and SCUBA equipment. While on board your vessel, clean gear with non-ionic detergents and soaps. Use a diluted bleach wash once you return to shore.

  • Opt for biodegradable, reef-friendly sun protection. Sunscreens containing between 1-10 percent Oxybenzone may harm corals. If you can’t avoid Oxybenzone, opt for the lowest concentration. Any small effort to reduce Oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Please do continue to wear sunscreen to prevent the risk of skin cancer, as the sun in South Florida is very strong."


SEAFAN - The Southeast Florida Action Network

The Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN) is a citizen reporting and response system designed to improve the protection and management of southeast Florida's offshore coral reefs by enhancing marine debris cleanup efforts, increasing response to vessel groundings and anchor damage, and providing early detection of potentially harmful biological disturbances.  CLICK HERE to view the

SEAFAN website or download the flyer HERE.

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Worm Rock Reef at Bathtub Beach

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CICK HERE to watch a one-,mute video on the history of Bathtub Beach.

"The reef is built by industrious little creatures known as Sabellariid (pronounced Sa-bell-AIR-id) worms. Using grains of sand, the inch-long worms build tubes around their bodies. Each square meter of reef houses about 60,000 tubes. The reef is incredibly unique and extremely fragile.

'There isn't enough education about the reef, that it is a living worm reef," said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. 'We're basically the only place in the country that has this huge example of worm reef, If you carve it, or even step on it, it will crush the tops of the tubes and (the worms) can't come back out again, and they die. So you are killing the reef." 

'The Coral Reef Protection Act, signed into law July 1, 2009, also covers worm reef, said Cristina Llorens, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental protection. Anyone who damages an area of reef equal to or smaller than a square meter can be fined $150. "Aggravating circumstances,"  like the intentional destruction would add another $150."

"While unique, ocean energy greatly impacts the fragile reef system at Bathtub Beach and can increase the frequency and severity of beach erosion. This type of reef system is not tall or sturdy enough to break up the wave energy throughout the fall and winter seasons, or in rough conditions like Nor’easters, tropical storms and hurricanes.

Under these conditions, the water inside the reef can develop strong currents, and big waves breaking just offshore can cause extensive beach erosion.

After rough conditions, this reef is tall enough to keep the sandbars from moving back to shore, resulting in a thin beach where the effects of erosion are much more significant. The result requires regularly scheduled restoration work and hurricane recovery projects."

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