The Staghorn Coral, also known as Acropora cervicornis, is a type of coral that has long, branch-like structures. The branches can be a few centimeters to over two meters long.
Staghorn Corals like to live in back reef and fore reef environments, anywhere from 0 to 30 m deep. They grow in different depths of water.
The upper limit is defined by how strong the waves are, and the lower limit is controlled by how much light is available and how much sediment is in the water.
Where Can You Find Staghorn Corals?
Staghorn Corals are found in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean islands.
They also occur in the western Gulf of Mexico, but they’re not found in U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda, or the west coast of South America.
The northern limit for these corals is on the east coast of Florida, around Jupiter, Florida.
How Do Staghorn Corals Reproduce?
Staghorn Corals have two ways of having babies. The main way is asexual, which means a new colony forms when branches break off a colony and reattach to the bottom of the ocean.
This is great for recovering from physical disturbances like storms. But, it’s hard for them to recover from disease or bleaching when the whole colony or even the entire stand is killed.
What About Sexual Reproduction?
The other way Staghorn Corals reproduce is sexually. They do this once a year in August or September. The corals release millions of gametes into the water.
The coral babies, called larvae, live in the plankton for several days until they find a good place to settle. Unfortunately, very few larvae survive to settle and grow into new colonies.
What Threats Do Staghorn Corals Face?
Staghorn Corals are facing lots of danger. The fact that they mainly reproduce asexually means that there may not be a lot of genetic diversity in the remaining populations.
This makes it hard for them to recover and grow.
What Has Happened to Their Population?
From 1970 to 2020, the Staghorn Coral population in the Florida Keys has dropped a lot. This is due to a combination of coral disease, bleaching, pollution, and predation.
This is really concerning for people who care about the ocean and its creatures.
What’s Being Done to Conserve Staghorn Corals?
People are working hard to conserve staghorn corals.
The Coral Restoration Foundation, along with the NOAA Recovery Plan, started planting corals in 2007 to restore populations in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary where staghorn corals were once common.
What About Legal Protection?
In 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity asked NMFS to list the Staghorn Coral under the ESA. In 2005, NMFS decided that Staghorn Corals should be listed as a ‘threatened’ species under the ESA.
In 2008, NMFS set aside critical habitat for these corals. In 2012, NMFS proposed moving Staghorn Corals to the endangered list, but in 2014, they decided to keep them listed as threatened.
Currently, Staghorn Corals are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
So, as you can see, Staghorn Corals are really cool and important, but they need our help to protect them.
Staghorn Corals Characteristics