Detecting sedimentation impacts to coral reefs resulting from dredging the Port of Miami, Florida USA

PeerJ. 2016 Nov 17:4:e2711. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2711. eCollection 2016.


The federal channel at Port of Miami, Florida, USA, was dredged between late 2013 and early 2015 to widen and deepen the channel. Due to the limited spatial extent of impact-assessment monitoring associated with the project, the extent of the dredging impacts on surrounding coral reefs has not been well quantified. Previously published remote sensing analyses, as well as agency and anecdotal reports suggest the most severe and largest area of sedimentation occurred on a coral reef feature referred to as the Inner Reef, particularly in the sector north of the channel. A confounding regional warm-water mass bleaching event followed by a coral disease outbreak during this same time frame made the assessment of dredging-related impacts to coral reefs adjacent to the federal channel difficult but still feasible. The current study sought to better understand the sedimentation impacts that occurred in the coral reef environment surrounding Port of Miami, to distinguish those impacts from other regional events or disturbances, and provide supplemental information on impact assessment that will inform discussions on compensatory mitigation requirements. To this end, in-water field assessments conducted after the completion of dredging and a time series analysis of tagged corals photographed pre-, during, and post-dredging, are used to discern dredging-related sedimentation impacts for the Inner Reef north. Results indicate increased sediment accumulation, severe in certain times and places, and an associated biological response (e.g., higher prevalence of partial mortality of corals) extended up to 700 m from the channel, whereas project-associated monitoring was limited to 50 m from the channel. These results can contribute to more realistic prediction of areas of indirect effect from dredging projects needed to accurately evaluate proposed projects and design appropriate compliance monitoring. Dredging projects near valuable and sensitive habitats subject to local and global stressors require monitoring methods capable of discerning non-dredging related impacts and adaptive management to ensure predicted and unpredicted project-related impacts are quantified. Anticipated increasing frequency and intensity of seasonal warming stress also suggests that manageable- but- unavoidable local stressors such as dredging should be partitioned from such seasonal thermal stress events.

Keywords: Adaptive management; Coral; Coral disease; Coral reef; Dredging; Impact assessment; Monitoring; Sedimentation.

Grants and funding

This work was funded by the NMFS Southeast Regional Office, NMFS Restoration Center, and NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.