Nearly 1,600 river miles separate Eastern Iowa from the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico, yet that same distance also connects the Gulf to Florida corals’ hope for survival.
A disease devastating corals in the Florida Reef Tract was first observed off the shores of southeast Florida in 2014. Since then, the disease has quickly spread to coral colonies in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Belize, and even Jamaica. The severity of the disease, known as stony coral tissue loss, has not lessened over the years. Once infected with the disease, corals face a 90% mortality rate.
Coral reefs are estimated to support 25% of all marine life, and the rapid decline of these corals led to a call for action to protect these ecosystems from completely crumbling was initiated by a handful of Florida’s conservation leaders in partnership with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
On April 2, 2019, aquarists at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium (NMRMA) in Dubuque became the first caretakers outside the state of Florida to house and protect corals as part of the AZA Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project (FRTRP). On this date, boxes containing a variety of Florida coral species and their inhabitants arrived at the NMRMA as refugees.
This little ecosystem housed in Dubuque, Iowa is a glimpse of FRTRP’s hope for the future of coral species. A future in which these corals are returned to the reef to rebuild, spawn, grow, and support a thriving ecosystem of marine life.