Strong Coasts Florida Keys Project Summer Fieldwork Update

By Michelle Platz

In Fall 2019, Strong Coasts opened the application for Challenge Grant Proposals to fund research projects for the 2020/2021 academic school year. Challenge Grants are interdisciplinary projects performed by Strong Coasts cohort members, focusing on community-engaged research rooted in a systems-thinking framework and working with global or field-based research partnerships. Four projects were selected for funding for the upcoming academic year: Seaweed Farming in Belize, Water Reuse in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Wastewater Management on Laughing Bird Caye in Belize, and Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease and Coral Restoration Monitoring in the Florida Keys. In this blog post, we hope to give you the inside scoop on what the latter, Florida Keys Project, has been up to over the last couple of months.

The Florida Keys Project is a collaborative study between Strong Coasts Fellows, Kris-An Hinds, Department of Anthropology, and Michelle Platz, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The objective of their study is to strengthen the relationship between ocean-based and land-based reef restoration in Florida by filling two predominant socio-environmental research gaps: 1. Literature detailing how reef decline and restoration has affected Florida Keys stakeholders, including residents, business owners, scientists, and tourists; 2) Published monitoring data evaluating the efficacy of Florida’s reef restoration efforts. By incorporating both social science and engineering perspectives, this project aims to identify leverage points within the reef restoration system to improve restoration monitoring and strengthen the relationships between the system’s stakeholders listed above.

After receiving IRB approval in May, Kris-An and Michelle conducted their first interviews with restoration practitioners and reef managers working to regenerate the Florida Reef Tract in June, officially kicking off the project’s ethnographic chapter! We cannot wait to keep learning from these professionals as we continue interviews throughout the summer.

Fig. 1

Last week, two reef monitoring systems were installed (Fig. 1) at Cudjoe Ledge and Marker 32 Reef in the lower Florida Keys as part of a collaboration between scientists from USF’s Watershed Sustainability Research Group, the Mote Marine Laboratory, and the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). These sensors will be used to monitor changes in the reef’s net community metabolism throughout the summer as they undergo coral restoration! More to come as Strong Coasts continues to learn about Florida’s treasured Reef Tract and the community of scientists and citizens diligently working to save it!

Check out the video below for a time lapse of recent fieldwork preparing and installing the monitoring systems on their respective reefs!

About the author Michelle Platz is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida. She has a BS in Environmental Engineering from the University of Cincinnati and a Masters in Environmental Engineering from the University of South Florida. Her dissertation research investigates monitoring in-situ community metabolism, the processes involved in cycling carbon for coral calcification and biomass production, in coral nurseries and on restored reefs as a means to monitor coral restoration. She is working with a suite of monitoring technologies known as the Benthic Ecosystem and Acidification Measurement System (BEAMS) which was previously developed by Dr. Yui Takeshita of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Her research goal is to use these data to improve restoration practitioners’ understanding of the metabolic, environmental, and hydrodynamic processes driving coral growth. She hopes to contribute data which can be used to inform upstream environmental and ecological engineering interventions to help protect the ecosystem services reefs provide.

STRONG COASTS is supported by a National Science Foundation Collaborative Research Traineeship (NRT) award (#1735320) led by the University of South Florida (USF) and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) to develop a community-engaged training and research program in systems thinking to better manage complex and interconnected food, energy, and water systems in coastal locations. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Systems thinking with coastal communities at the food energy water nexus