Staghorn coral is considered one of the more threatened types of coral in the world today. Staghorn coral is a branching coral with cylindrical branches ranging from just a few centimeters to over 6.5 feet in length. It is considered one of the three most important Caribbean corals in terms of its contribution to fishery habitat and reef growth.
Staghorn Coral Distribution
Staghorn coral is currently found throughout the Bahamas, Florida Keys, and the Caribbean islands, as well as Venezuela. Staghorn coral occurs in the western Gulf of Mexico, but has not been found in United States waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The northern limit is on the east coast of Florida near Boca Raton.
Staghorn Coral Reproduction
The dominant mode of reproduction for the Staghorn Coral is asexual fragmentation, with new colonies forming when branches break off a colony and reattach to the substrate. Staghorn Coral sexually reproduce via broadcast spawning of gametes into the water column once each year in August and September. The coral larvae (planula) live in the plankton for several days until finding a suitable place to settle, but very few larvae actually survive this process.
Staghorn Coral Habitat
This type of coral is generally found in back reef and fore reef environments from 0-100 feet deep. The placement of the staghorn coral is controlled by wave forces, suspended sediments, ad light availability. The NMFS has dedicated a critical habitat for staghorn coral in Florida, Puerto Rico, St John/St Thomas and St. Croix to help protect these beautiful coral colonies.
Staghorn Coral Threats
One of the greatest threats to the colonies of staghorn coral has been disease outbreaks, mainly of white band disease. Other more localized losses have occurred due to hurricanes, algae overgrowth, human impacts and other various factors such as pollution. This species of coral is very sensitive to damage from sedimentation, water temperature and salinity variations.
Staghorn Coral Conservation Efforts
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), the largest coral reef management entity in the region, has created programs that will help protect the preservation of staghorn coral. Zoning and channel markings and various restoration efforts to control predation and disease have been established to try and protect this endangered species of coral. Since 1980, populations of staghorn coral have rapidly collapsed due to many factors, and populations have declined by up to 98% since that time. Conservation efforts continue to be at the forefront to establish new ways to save the populations of this coral worldwide.