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NOAA Closes Two Reef Patches Due To Coral Die-Off

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program today announced their intention to institute a 60-day emergency closure of two patch reefs off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to all activities except permitted scientific research due to a fast-spreading coral disease. No person or vessels will be allowed to enter the closed area during the quarantined period. Notice of the closure will be published in the Federal Register next week. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

White Banks North and White Banks South, two mid-channel patch reefs, have recently experienced a rapidly-spreading die-off of staghorn coral. Scientists are concerned that the die-off may be caused by a new type of coral disease. Early stages of the affected colonies have large white patches, approximately three to four inches long, along the branches at the middle and base of staghorn. Sanctuary researchers report that only the staghorn coral in the closed area appears to be affected.

"Scientists have recommended the strict quarantine as a precautionary measure to help prevent the possible transmission to healthy areas," said Billy Causey, superintendent of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. "The closure will also help eliminate any additional stress to the corals in the affected area."

The area closed is less than a .25nm square. The coordinates are:

White Banks North:
NW 25 02.718 80 22.261
NE 25 02.780 80 22.105
SE 25 02.691 80 22.000
SW 25 02.567 80 22.157

White Banks South:
NW 25 02.414 80 22.425
NE 25 02.446 80 22.267
SE 25 02.314 80 22.278
SW 25 02.336 80 22.408

Approximately three weeks ago, NOAA scientists discovered the die-off during routine monitoring of the area, and became concerned as they observed its spread. Scientists continue to monitor the situation and are collecting tissue samples for laboratory analysis to determine the cause.

The sanctuary will remove the mooring buoys from the two areas, and will be working with area dive charters to place mooring buoys on nearby patch reefs to minimize the impact on their operations.

Divers and snorkelers can help by reporting sightings of white, dead staghorn coral to Mote Marine Laboratories, Marine Ecosystem Event Response and Assessment Program at (305) 745-2729.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, designated in 1990, protects 2,900 square nautical miles of coral reefs, seagrass meadows, hardbottom communities, mangrove shorelines and mud and sand habitat through a state and federal partnership.

Cliff Etzel
Cliff Etzel
Cliff is the former Freediving editor of He is now a freelance journalist and film-maker.