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At a Glance

  • 12 sites
  • Dry Tortugas National Park and nearby FKNMS waters
  • Monitoring initiated in 1999
  • Sites chosen by reef type, historic data collection, and range of visitor use
  • Funded by Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Monitoring conducted by FWC

CREMP expanded into the Dry Tortugas in 1999, with three sites included as part of the EPA’s Water Quality Protection Program. These sentinel sites included two sites inside Dry Tortugas National Park and one site inside the Tortugas Northern Ecological Reserve, part of the FKNMS. Additional sites were later added through a cooperative agreement between FWC and Dry Tortugas National Park. The CREMP sampling effort in the Dry Tortugas encompasses a variety of the diverse coral reef habitats found in the Dry Tortugas, some of which are unique to the region and not found elsewhere along Florida’s Coral Reef. These include several high-relief pinnacle reefs and a high-relief spur and groove reef that support diverse benthic assemblages as well as several shallow, mostly monotypic stands of Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed coral species.

A satellite map of the Dry Tortugas. The Dry Tortugas National Park boundary is shown by a thick black line while Research Natural Area boundaries are a dashed black line. CREMP monitoring sites are shown as purple upside-down triangles for Deep Forereef, orange circles for Patch Reef with ESA-listed corals, and white diamonds for Pinnacle Reef sites.

Map of the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Program in the Dry Tortugas.

Currently, 12 sites are surveyed annually in the Dry Tortugas (see table below). Although most of the individual sites monitored by CREMP were purposefully selected to address specific research or management objectives, collectively all study sites provide a general assessment of benthic habitat condition in the Dry Tortugas. Sites were chosen based on reef type, historical or ecological significance, or to answer specific management questions of interest to the National Park Service. Reef types and rationale for monitoring include:

Colonies of elkhorn coral, golden yellow against the blue water, grow in a line extending to the background of the photo. Dead, light tan boulder corals and living, brown sea plumes surround the elkhorn coral.

An example of a reef in the Dry Tortugas with Acropora palmata, the threatened elkhorn coral. 

  • Pinnacle reefs are seamounts that rise abruptly from the seafloor and have steeply sloped walls.
  • Patch reefs with ESA-listed corals are shallow reefs typically characterized by the dominance of one of the ESA-listed species (i.e. White Shoal and Loggerhead Patch are patch reefs that were once dominated by Acropora cervicornis). Palmata Patch is the last surviving remnant of an extensive stand of palmata that previously stretched seaward of Long Key and Bird Key. Prolifera Patch is a large stand of living A. prolifera. Little Africa is a shallow reef mostly composed of Orbicella annularis and O. faveolata.
  • Reefs with historic monitoring: The Dry Tortugas has long attracted the interest of scientists. Alexander Agassiz visited the Dry Tortugas in 1881 during his mapping of Florida’s Coral Reef. Decades later, Alfred Goldsboro Mayer, backed by the Carnegie Institution, built a research laboratory on Loggerhead Key in 1904. Marine research was conducted here until 1939 by Mayer, T. Wayland Vaughan, John Wells, and other well-known marine scientists until the destruction of the lab by hurricanes. Little Africa (previously called “African Reef”) was a commonly studied reef during the days of the Carnegie Lab due to its accessibility from Loggerhead Key, while locations along Bird Key Reef have been monitored periodically since the early 1970’s.

Since the onset of the program, several modifications to the spatial design have occurred.

  • 1999
    • Monitoring begins at the three original Dry Tortugas sites - Bird Key Reef, White Shoal, and Black Coral Rock.
  • 2004
    • Five sites added to the sampling effort – three sites to monitor the Park’s remaining stands of acorporids – Loggerhead Patch, Palmata Patch, Prolifera Patch – and two pinnacle reefs - Temptation Peak, and Mayer’s Peak.
  • 2009
    • Three pinnacle reefs within the Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area were added to assess visitor use impacts after the installation of mooring buoys at The Maze, Texas Rock, and Davis Rock.

Dry Tortugas CREMP Sites

CREMP in the Dry Tortugas sites are stratified by management designation and reef type. See the CREMP in the Dry Tortugas site table for a full listing of our sites and monitoring timeframe. Note the sites added to the sampling effort over the lifetime of the program.