The Effects of Nutrient Loading and Coral Contamination on the Reefs of Southeast Florida and the Keys

This topic submitted by Joel Thrash ( at 12:21 PM on 6/11/03.

This stingray seems to be flying at Molasses Reef, Key Largo, Florida.

Tropical Field Courses -Western Program-Miami University

Joel Thrash

The Effects of Nutrient Loading and Coral Contamination on the Reefs of Southeast Florida and the Keys

Serving as the home to the only emergent reefs in the continental United States, the coral communities in southeast Florida and the Keys are a critical national resource. However, current research suggests that these reef communities are becoming increasingly threatened from anthropogenic sources of pollution, namely nutrient loading from improperly treated sewage that continues to leak from groundwater on both sides of the Keys. Some impacts of nutrient loading include excessive algal growth, increasing coral diseases, coral contamination, marine grass and sponge mortality, and decreased living coral cover. This paper will highlight and critically examine the current research that suggests that these problems are the result of nutrient loading from, perhaps, inadequate water resource management. The patterns and evidence for fecal contamination in corals of the Florida Keys will be are described; additionally, the spread of coral diseases as well as efforts to monitor and mitigate loading will be discussed.

I. Introduction to Reefs of SE Florida and the Keys
A. Geographical Setting and Land Use Relationships
B. Background Data on the Reefs
II. Coral Contamination/Disease
A. Evidence for Human Fecal Contamination
B. Nutrient Loading and Nutrient Enrichment in Tropical Waters
C. Organochlorine Pesticide Residues
D. Patterns and Spread of Disease
III. Water Resource management
A. Groundwater Seepage
B. Municipal Underground Injection Control (UIC) Wells
C. Recent SDWA changes to allow deep well injection of municpal/industrial waste
D. Salt-Water intrusion
IV. Monitoring and Mitigation Control
A. South Florida
B. Keys
V. Future Sustainability of Coral Reefs in SE Florida and the Keys


Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. 2003.

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