Columbus Iselin Coral Reef Restoration
Just before midnight on August 10, 1994 a 155-foot research vessel, the R/V Columbus Iselin (Iselin), went aground on a spur and groove coral reef formation in the western portion of the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. These ancient spur and groove formations are among the best developed in the Florida Keys. The grounding site was 12.9 km off the southwest tip of Big Pine Key, Florida (24° 37'N, 81°). The extensive physical damage caused by the Iselin grounding (e.g., scraping, cracking of the underlying fossil limestone) led to impressive impacts on the habitat and biological resources of the area. Because of this, the focus of restoration was on recreating preexisting habitat, structure, depth, and surface topographical relief. This approach will allow benthic organisms to recolonize the area. Without physical restoration efforts, the site would have deteriorated further due to storm damage, and biological recovery would be extremely slow. After the reconstruction, adult colonies of the major resident benthic species (e.g., hard corals, soft corals, sponges, and sea mat) will be transplanted to the re-created reef substratum. The site is being monitored to assess the recovery and natural recruitment processes of both benthic species like corals and sponges, as well as fish populations.