Regional coral disease outbreak overwhelms impacts from a local dredge project

Abstract

A repeated-measures coral monitoring program established as part of the PortMiami expansion program provided an unparalleled opportunity to quantify the levels of coral mortality that resulted from both local dredging stress and as a result of climate-related bleaching stress and the subsequent outbreak of a white-plague-like disease (WPD) epizootic. By comparing measured rates of coral mortality at 30 sites throughout Miami-Dade County to predicted mortality levels from three different coral mortality scenarios, we were able to evaluate the most likely source of coral mortality at both the local and regional levels during the 2014–2016 coral bleaching and WPD event. These include scenarios that assume (1) local dredging increases coral disease mortality, (2) regional climate-related stress is the proximal driver of coral disease mortality, and (3) local and regional stressors are both responsible for coral disease mortality. Our results show that species-specific susceptibility to disease is the determining factor in 93.3% of coral mortality evaluated throughout Miami-Dade County, whereas local dredging stress only accurately predicted coral mortality levels 6.7% of the time. None of the monitoring locations adjacent to the PortMiami expansion had levels of coral mortality that exceeded predictions when coral community composition was taken into account. The novel result of this analysis is that climate-mediated coral disease mortality was more than an order of magnitude (14x) more deadly than even the largest marine construction project performed in the USA, and that until climate change is addressed, it is likely that local attempts to manage coral resilience will continue to fail.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to Alison Conner, Jeff Coward, Laura Croop, Herve Jobert, Christina Marmet, Alex Schroeder, and Tyler Shelley for assistance with scientific diving, data collection, and analysis. Kudos to our boat captain Vern Smith for keeping us safe through thousands of dives no matter how crappy the conditions. We also would like to thank Richard Aronson, Fred Aschauer, Becky Hope, Danielle Irwin, Les Kaufman, Craig Kruempel, Jeff Littlejohn, Jamie Monty, Caroline Rogers, and Robert van Woesik for insightful conservations and discussions over the past few years that helped us stay focused. We are especially indebted to Steven Miller for his thoughtful analysis and editorial advice. We would also like to thank Lauren Toth and John Bruno for commenting on an early draft of this manuscript. This paper is dedicated to the memory of our beloved friend and colleague Ruth Gates who made saving coral reefs her life’s mission. We will miss her zest for life, her generous spirit, her contagious enthusiasm, her commitment and dedication to her craft, her courageousness in the face of despair, but most of all her never-ending smile.

Funding

This work was supported in-part to the authors by salaries from the marine and environmental sciences firm Dial Cordy and Associates, Inc. (DCA). DCA received funding under contracts to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, LLC (GLDD) sponsored by the USACE, Jacksonville District and PortMiami, Miami-Dade County for environmental compliance and analysis under FDEP Permit No. 0305721-001-BI. These contracts provided support to the investigators to undertake monitoring of coral populations in the vicinity of PortMiami in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The funders had no role in data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. This manuscript was written on the personal time of the authors and the views, statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed herein are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of DCA, GLDD, the USACE, PortMiami, Miami-Dade County, or any of their present employers.

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Gintert, B.E., Precht, W.F., Fura, R. et al. Regional coral disease outbreak overwhelms impacts from a local dredge project. Environ Monit Assess 191, 630 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-019-7767-7

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Keywords

  • Coral reefs
  • Florida
  • Climate change
  • Disease
  • Bleaching
  • Dredging
  • PortMiami