Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST) Project
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Posted byRachel Gregg
The Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST) project investigates the health and resilience of coral reefs to future ecosystem changes, including climate change, in the Florida Keys, U.S. Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. Its primary purpose is to provide data to inform public policy and best management practices for coral reef conservation and restoration.
Coral reefs provide important ecosystem services, such as shoreline protection, and support economically important industries such as fisheries and tourism. These reefs are stressed by disease, overfishing, pollution, climate change, and ocean acidification. The CREST project examines the interactions between these stressors while improving the understanding of the current status and function of coral reefs and investigating likely future changes in reef ecosystems in the Dry Tortugas, Virgin Islands, and Biscayne National Parks, and selected areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The primary goals of CREST are to improve understanding and information about coral health in the region; improve the ability to forecast future changes; and guide management decisions.
Project staff are:
- mapping and characterizing coral reefs and habitats;
- identifying responses of corals to climate and sea level changes;
- identifying causes of coral disease;
- surveying seafloor erosion;
- evaluating the role of microbial processes in reef systems;
- evaluating threats from ocean acidification; and
- quantifying trends in biogenic calcification.
In climate-specific research, project staff are examining the calcium carbonate skeletons of corals to determine both historic and future environmental changes; variations in the chemical composition of coral skeletons record environmental conditions, such as temperature, salinity, and pH. Other studies include reef sampling to determine microbial load, which affects coral disease and calcification. These data will provide information about the correlation between environmental change and the ability of coral to grow, especially with regard to the effects of ocean acidification and rising sea levels. For example, CREST scientists are measuring calcification rates and testing genetic strains of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) to evaluate growth capacity in different environments and determine the suitability of potential sites for successful restoration.
An example of how CREST data can inform reef management practices is a recent study about seafloor erosion. CREST scientists surveyed reefs in Hawai‘i, Florida, and the Caribbean and found that sea level rise is being exacerbated by seafloor erosion, and that reef growth is not occurring fast enough to compensate for both of these variables. The results of this study can help inform coastal engineers when evaluating the vulnerability of communities that rely on reefs for storm protection.
Outcomes and Conclusions
Through this project, the U.S. Geological Survey is contributing information about the effects of climate change on coral reef health and resilience, and providing a framework to examine the effects of interacting stressors on valuable and vulnerable coral reef habitats.
Gregg, R. M. (2020). Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST) Project [Case study on a project of the U.S. Geological Survey's St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/coral-reef-ecosystem-studies-crest-project (Last updated June 2020)