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August 27-29, 2013
aboard the R/V MANTA


Members from the FGBNMS research team and researchers from the University of Texas, Oregon State University, and Texas A&M University at Galveston, completed a three-day mission to document and study the annual mass coral spawning. This cruise was funded by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

Orbicella franksi (star coral) about to spawn

Orbicella franksi (star coral) starting to release gamete bundles

Orbicella franksi (star coral) continuing spawning
Sequence of Orbicella franksi spawning.
Images: FGBNMS/Schmahl

Multiple species of coral were documented spawning, including Orbicella (formerly Montastraea) franksi, O. faveolata, Montastraea cavernosa and Pseudodiploria strigosa.

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Close up of Orbicella franksi (star coral) polyps releasing gamete bundles

Zoomed out a little from Orbicella franksi (star coral) polyps releasing gamete bundlesStar coral Orbicella franksi releasing gamete bundles. Images: FGBNMS/Schmahl

Close up images like these show the slight color differences between colonies. The color of the coral is determined by the color of the symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) living within its tissues.

Close up of Orbicella franksi (star coral) polyps releasing gamete bundles

Zoomed out a little from Orbicella franksi (star coral) polyps releasing gamete bundles
Star coral Orbicella franksi releasing gamete bundles. Images: FGBNMS/Schmahl

People aren't the only ones interested in the coral spawning activity. Some animals find this the perfect time to feed.

Ruby brittlestar sprawled across a brain coral gathering gamete bundles
A ruby brittle star, Ophioderma rubicundum, feeds on gamete bundles from a brain coral, Pseudodiploria strigosa. Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

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Daytime Activities

Researchers worked on a wide array of topics, including coral genetics, larval biology, sedimentary respiration and photosynthesis, and acoustic array range testing.

Two divers placing a piece of equipment in the sand
Research Coordinator Emma Hickerson (left) and Research Assistant Marissa Nuttall (right) deploy a benthic chamber in a sand flat at East Flower Garden Bank.

Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

This instrument measures the respiration of creatures living in the substrate. This is a TAMUG project.

A scientific instrument that looks like two class circles with a metal bar across the top settled on the sand
A benthic lander deployed in onw of the sand flats to
measure respiration.
Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

Acoustic receivers are located at each of the three sanctuary banks and record pings from nearby animals carrying acoustic tags. Efforts this trip were focused on determining just how close an animal needs to be for the ping to be recorded.

A series of submerged buoy lines with an acoustic receiver attached to each one








Research Assistant Marissa Nuttall (left) sets up an array of acoustic receivers at East Flower Garden Bank to test the range between the receivers and the pingers. R/V MANTA is visible above the array in the image to the right.
Image: FGBNMS/Hickerson

Invasive Lionfish were removed whenever possible. Once speared, the fish were shoved into the PVC tube (Zookeeper TM) with a funneled top for transport to the surface. This protects the divers from the venomous spines.

Two divers spearing lionfish
Researchers Emma Hickerson (left) and Marissa Nuttall (right) remove two invasive Pacific lionfish, using small pole spears. Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

All Lionfish removals are conducted under a sanctuary permit. Spearfishing is otherwise not allowed in the sanctuary.

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General Observations

A fish swimming between assorted corals clustered together on a small mound
An assortment of corals on the reef crest - fire coral, brain coral, and mustard hill coral, to name a few.
Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

Large colony of Orbicella faveolata with a diver alongside.
A large star coral (Orbicella faveolata) colony, hundreds of years old. Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

At deeper depths, corals start plating, and thus increasing their surface area, to maximize access to sunlight so that the symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) can photosynthesize and provide energy to the coral animals.

Orbicella franksi in layered plate-like formation
A plating star coral, Orbicella franksi.
Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

Some bleached and damaged corals were observed, but most of the reef seemed to be healthy.

A bleached (white) coral colony in the middle of a reef of healthy looking coral.
A bleached star coral, Montastraea cavernosa, stands in stark in contrast to the non-bleached colonies
surrounding it.
 Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

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Brain coral with white patches and algae growing along some of the ridges
A Three-spot Damselfish (Stegastes planifrons) is farming a garden of algae on top of this brain coral (Pseudodiploria strigosa), which has caused lesions on the ridges of
the brain coral.
Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

Parrotfish are important members of the coral reef ecosystem, grazing on algae and coral. Some of their activity causes some damage to the corals, but is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

A section of coral on the reef is stark white as a result of bites from the large parrotfish swimming nearby
Stoplight Parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) swimming near a star coral (Orbicella faveolata) colony where they have been concentrating bites. Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

Large queen parrotfish swimming along the reef with a boat shadow visible on the surface of the water above
A Queen Parrotfish (Scarus vetula) swims along the reef. The shadow at top right is the research vessel MANTA floating at the surface. Image: FGBNMS/Schmahl

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Manta Ray sightings are always welcome. This Manta Ray visited quite close to R/V MANTA during the trip.

Manta Ray with a remora riding on her back and one riding under her belly
A Manta Ray (Manta birostris) swimming just below the dive ladder of R/V MANTA (visible at top right). Image: FGBNMS/Hickerson

Manta Ray with a remora riding on her back and one riding under her belly
The same Manta Ray (Manta birostris) reflecting off the surface of the water. Image: FGBNMS/Hickerson

Close up view of the cephalic fins of a Manta Ray
A close-up of the Manta Ray (Manta birostris) unfurling her cephalic fins for feeding. Image: FGBNMS/Hickerson

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General Coral Spawning Information

For general information about the annual mass coral spawning event, please visit our Coral Spawning page.

For summaries and reports from other spawning seasons, please use the links below:

2011 Coral Spawning

2010 Coral Spawning

2009 Coral Spawning

2008 Coral Spawning

2007 Coral Spawning

2006 Coral Spawning

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weather report observations cool stuff get wet

Orange, branching gorgonian (soft coral) anchored in a bed of sponges and other sea life.
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