News Release

Port of Miami corals remarkably persistent, new study finds

Coral show great resilience against unfavorable conditions in the highly urbanized environment

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science

Coral persistence despite marginal conditions in the Port of Miami

image: The Port of Miami is a bustling waterway with large cruise and cargo ships, ferries, fishing vessels, and recreational boats. As it turns out, this waterway is also home to a resilient coral community. view more 

Credit: Colin Foord

Researchers at the University of Miami Cooperative Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) and partners found the corals within the highly urbanized environment around the Port of Miami show great resilience against unfavorable conditions, such as poor water quality, excess nutrients, high temperatures, high salinity, and low pH levels.

The Port of Miami is a bustling waterway with large cruise and cargo ships, ferries, fishing vessels, and recreational boats. These corals have built strong and diverse communities on human-made substrates, such as seawalls and discarded objects, according to the study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

“These corals are important because they are rare and threatened, but also because they demonstrate surprising resilience that can teach us about the future of coral reef ecosystems today,” said Michael Studivan, a co-author of the study and a scientist at the Rosenstiel School’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies.  “Corals persist despite conditions that would harm many reef species, including extreme temperatures, acidification, and poor water quality.

Scientists visited the Port of Miami over a three-year period beginning in 2018 to monitor environmental conditions and measure coral community dynamics. The research team used a suite of state-of-the-art instruments that included sub-surface autonomous samplers designed at CIMAS/AOML and coral photomosaics. 

The samplers monitored the temperature, pH, oxygen, carbonate chemistry, light, and tidal flow at three reef sites. Photomosaics consisting of thousands of high-resolution underwater photos stitched together created detailed maps of these habitats to characterize their coral cover, spread, and species diversity.

Through a collaboration with Coral Morphologic’s Coral City Camera, live underwater cameras were placed at an urban coral nursery site, which helped scientists to identify unique fish species visiting the site, including the endangered smalltooth sawfish

“The Port of Miami is quite different from the places where we normally work. Everything is artificial, engineered, and constructed,” said Ian Enochs, a research ecologist at AOML and lead author of the new study. “Somehow, nature has found a way to persist even in the most unnatural of environments.”

The study, titled “Coral persistence despite marginal conditions in the Port of Miami,” was published in the April issue of Scientific Reports.  The authors include Ian C. Enochs, from NOAA AOML, Michael S. Studivan, Graham Kolodziej from CIMAS, Colin Foord from Coral Morphologic, Isabelle Basden and Albert Boyd from CIMAS, Nathan Formel from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Amanda Kirkland from the University of New Orleans, Ewelina Rubin from the University of Florida, Mike Jankulak and Ian Smith from CIMAS, Christopher R. Kelble from NOAA AOML, and Derek P. Manzello from NOAA.

The research was funded by NOAA OAR’s ‘Omics Initiative with additional support provided by NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program and Coral Reef Conservation Program. The results of this study were only possible through a close collaboration among NOAA AOML, the University of Miami Rosenstiel School’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, Coral Morphologic and the field efforts of numerous scuba divers and laboratory technicians.

-- Adapted from a NOAA web article


About the University of Miami

The University of Miami is a private research university and academic health system with a distinct geographic capacity to connect institutions, individuals, and ideas across the hemisphere and around the world. The University’s vibrant and diverse academic community comprises 12 schools and colleges serving more than 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students in more than 180 majors and programs. Located within one of the most dynamic and multicultural cities in the world, the University is building new bridges across geographic, cultural, and intellectual borders, bringing a passion for scholarly excellence, a spirit of innovation, a respect for including and elevating diverse voices, and a commitment to tackling the challenges facing our world. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life.


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