USGS - science for a changing world

St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST)


wave breaking on a shallow reef in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
This photograph shows a wave breaking on a shallow reef in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Protection of shorelines from storm waves, tsunamis, and other assaults is a key ecosystem service that coral reefs provide. Photo credit: Ilsa B. Kuffner, USGS.
Coral reefs are massive, bio-mineralized structures that protect coastlines by acting as barriers to coastal hazards such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and other assaults. They provide sand for beaches through the natural process of erosion, support tourism and recreational industries, and provide essential habitat for fisheries. The continuing global degradation of coral reef ecosystems is well documented. There is need for focused, coordinated science to understand the complex physical and biological processes and interactions that are impacting the condition of coral reefs and their ability to respond to changing conditions.

By combining our research activities involving mapping, monitoring, and retrospectively investigating reef processes such as calcification, reef metabolism, and microbial cycling, we will reveal linkages among them and establish connections to ecosystem services or outputs including reef edification, seawater chemistry, sand production, and habitat construction. Our work will therefore address several key issues related to the current status and potential declining health and resilience of shallow-water reef communities in the U.S. Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Florida Keys. Improved understanding and information resulting from our work will help guide policies and best management practices to preserve and restore U.S. coral reef resources.

The specific objectives of this project are to identify and describe the processes that are important in determining rates of coral-reef construction. How quickly the skeletons of calcifying organisms accumulate to form massive barrier-reef structure is determined by processes of both construction (how fast organisms grow and reproduce) and destruction (how fast reefs break down by mechanical, chemical, and biological means). The components of our project represent multiple disciplines working together to answer one fundamental question: 'what are the drivers determining calcification rates and reef construction, and will reefs cease to accrete (grow) in the near future in the context of ocean warming, ocean acidification, and/or compromised water quality?' We will also explore the seasonal, spatial (vertical and horizontal), and retrospective (historical and geological) heterogeneity in the reef processes we are investigating. A greater knowledge of the natural variability in these processes will afford us a much better chance of detecting and understanding potential impacts of global climate change or altered water quality on reef building.

Fact Sheets

Measuring Coral Growth To Help Restore Reefs
Measuring Coral Growth To Help Restore Reefs
Coral reef community metabolism
Coral Reef Seafloor Erosion and Coastal Hazards
Reef History and Climate Change
Reef History and Climate Change
Holocene Coral-Reef Development
Holocene Coral-Reef Development

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Feedback
Page Last Modified: August 29, 2017 @ 01:15 PM (JSG)