Coral Disease Data Management and Response

By Nick Alcaraz

During the fall of 2014, over 20 species of stony corals near Key Biscayne in Miami-Dade County, Florida developed cases of disease-related tissue loss. The disease continued for multiple years along a large portion of the Florida Reef Tract (FRT). As of fall 2018, the outbreak had moved as far north as Martin County and south into the lower Florida Keys. Although yearly disease events occur regularly, this outbreak was uncommon due to the high number of affected species, the rapid mortality rate of colonies, and extended duration of the event.

A comprehensive data management implementation plan was necessary to deliver appropriate and timely information for coral disease response efforts. As part of the Data Management Team (DMT), staff from FWRI’s Center for Spatial Analysis (CSA) in St. Petersburg, FL are addressing data access, storage, analytics and visualization. The effort has generated synthesized data products to guide response actions such as field coordination and resource management decision support.

One aspect of the project consisted of collaboration with FWC’s Coral Reef Research Program. Reconnaissance and rescue of corals in the Lower Keys is currently taking place. Researchers needed resources to determine priority rescue locations, document the progression of the disease margin, and track corals in-lab after rescue. Solutions were developed using ESRI’s ArcGIS Online products, specifically the Operations Dashboard and Web-Mapping Applications. These tools synthesize Excel datasheets and provide an easy-to-use exploratory interface for field staff, research staff, managers, and the public.

The results of this project will be incorporated into an on-going coral disease response effort which seeks to: improve understanding about the scale and severity of the Florida Reef Tract coral disease outbreak, identify primary and secondary causes, identify management actions to remediate disease impacts, and ultimately restore affected resources.