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Gintert, B. E., Gintert BE, Precht, W. F., Precht WF, Fura, R., Fura R, et al. (2019). Regional coral disease outbreak overwhelms impacts from a local dredge project. Environ Monit Assess, 191(10).
Abstract: A repeated-measures coral monitoring program established as part of the PortMiami expansion program provided an unparalleled opportunity to quantify the levels of coral mortality that resulted from both local dredging stress and as a result of climate-related bleaching stress and the subsequent outbreak of a white-plague-like disease (WPD) epizootic. By comparing measured rates of coral mortality at 30 sites throughout Miami-Dade County to predicted mortality levels from three different coral mortality scenarios, we were able to evaluate the most likely source of coral mortality at both the local and regional levels during the 2014-2016 coral bleaching and WPD event. These include scenarios that assume (1) local dredging increases coral disease mortality, (2) regional climate-related stress is the proximal driver of coral disease mortality, and (3) local and regional stressors are both responsible for coral disease mortality. Our results show that species-specific susceptibility to disease is the determining factor in 93.3% of coral mortality evaluated throughout Miami-Dade County, whereas local dredging stress only accurately predicted coral mortality levels 6.7% of the time. None of the monitoring locations adjacent to the PortMiami expansion had levels of coral mortality that exceeded predictions when coral community composition was taken into account. The novel result of this analysis is that climate-mediated coral disease mortality was more than an order of magnitude (14x) more deadly than even the largest marine construction project performed in the USA, and that until climate change is addressed, it is likely that local attempts to manage coral resilience will continue to fail.