Friday, 26 May 2017

The Florida Keys: Pillar Patch

Sam Shaw and Tyler Williams
Pillar Patch

On Wednesday, May 24, the second site of the day we visited was Pillar Patch. It was named Pillar Patch due to the presence of Dendrogyra cylindras, which has a distinct “pillar-like” appearance, and is coated in what looks to be shag carpet, but really its tentacles. This patch is the last good stand of this pillar type coral. Over the last 3 years, over 90% of this coral has died out due to an unknown disease. Research is currently being done by organizations such as Keys Marine Lab, to attempt to save and preserve this coral before it completely dies out. Even at this site, there was evidence of pillar collection on some of the towers.

Due to its patch reef nature, the benthos consisted of rocky, hard bottoms interspersed with soft sediment patches. There was a significant presence of gorgonians over scleractinian corals, and overall the algal abundance was low. Out of the gorgonians present, sea rods and sea fans were more abundant than any other soft corals. The large soft coral presence could be due to the high wave energy of the system that we were in. Their flexibility prevents damaged caused by the wave energy compared to the scleractinian calcium carbonate structures. This could also account for the higher presence of boulder scleractinian forms, such as the brain corals.
Sea Fan and Sea Rod Corals
 with a French Angelfish 
Sea Fan Coral


Due to high southern winds, and an approaching storm front, the water was extremely choppy that day. The choppy water impacted the visibility, making it difficult to identify species from a distance. This difficulty may have impacted the observed diversity. Although the diversity of invertebrates, algae, and fishes was less compared to Coffins Patch (the first site of the day), it was higher in comparison to the near shore reef systems observed earlier in the week. Some of the fishes that were highest in abundance at this site included: Sergeant Major, Yellowtail Damselfish, Smallmouth Grunt, White Grunt, and Yellowtail Snapper.

Animal Species at Pillar Patch
Scientific Name:
Common Name:
Thalassoma bifasciatum
Bluehead Wrasse
Abudefduf saxatilis
Sergeant Major
Haemulon sciurus
Blue Striped Grunt
Ginglymostoma cirratum
Nurse Shark
Chrysiptera parasema
Yellowtail Damselfish
Haemulon plumierii
White Grunt
Lachnolaimus maximus
Acanthurus coeruleus
Blue Tang
Anisotremus virginicus
Haemulon sciurus
Blue Striped Grunt
Bodianus rufus
Spanish Hogfish
Haemulon carbonarium
Caesar Grunt
Haemulon melanurum
Urobatis jamaicensis
Yellow Stingray
Epinephelus striatus
Nassau Grouper
Haemulon chrysargyreum
Smallmouth Grunt
Kyphosus vaigiensis
Brassy Chub

Coral and Sponge Species at Pillar Patch
Scientific Name
Common Name
Sea Fans
Xesospongia muta
Barrel Sponge
Colpophyllia natans
Brain Coral
Meandrina Meandrites
Brian Coral
Diploria labyrinthiformis
Brain Coral
Montastraea cavernosa
Great Star Coral
Sea Rod
Porites porites
Clubtip Finger Coral
Eusmilia fastigiata
Smooth Flower Coral

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