Data Management Tools for Corals Rescued from SCTLD

  • Coral Response Data Management conceptual framework

  • An image of the Coral Management Rescue dashboard.

  • A view of the Coral Intervention dashboard.

  • A view of the USF Environmental dashboard.

First reported off the coast of Miami-Dade County in 2014, Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) quickly spread from the northern extent of the reef tract in Martin County down past Key West and much of the Caribbean affecting nearly half of Florida’s reef building coral species and resulting in high rates of coral mortality. A massive research and rescue campaign was launched by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in response to the disease outbreak. Roughly 60 partner organizations from state and federal agencies, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and zoos and aquariums came together to respond to this outbreak. A major challenge with coordinating an effort of this magnitude is synthesizing the proliferation of data and research findings into a format that can inform management decisions and restoration measures. To address this need, FDEP established the coral disease Data Management Team (DMT) lead by FWRI’s Information Science & Management (IS&M) section. IS&M staff work closely with both researchers and managers involved in the response and utilize an established data management infrastructure capable of scaling to this large-scale, multi-agency data management need. 

IS&M staff have been responsible for 1) coordinating with research partners to inventory data collection activities, 2) identifying informational needs of managers and citizens, and 3) implementing innovative solutions to ensure data are collected, compiled, and distributed in a way that supports our partners in their critical work to respond to SCTLD impacts. Given this directive, the IS&M staff address a broad range of research questions by providing coral disease partners with the data management infrastructure, data collection and reporting tools, and map applications necessary for addressing the SCTLD outbreak. FWRI staff serving on the DMT include spatial ecologists, biologists, database managers, GIS analysts, statisticians, and programmers. 

The first year of this project was dedicated to addressing the most immediate need for tracking SCTLD rescue activities which consist of collecting healthy corals in the wild, transferring those corals to on-land quarantine facilities, caring for and breeding them with the intent to eventually return rescued corals to the reef once the SCTLD outbreak has subsided. A centralized data infrastructure was needed to ensure data collected, including the location and condition of rescued corals, was properly maintained and accessible to managers and researchers. The solution was the Coral Disease Database which was developed and is currently maintained by IS&M staff. The Database accommodates all types of data collected from corals which have been rescued, treated, or monitored through the SCTLD response. Types of data maintained in the Coral Disease Database include genetic information, histology sample results, environmental data, and a wide range of epidemiolocal variables. The Database is designed to link data from various data providers, giving users the ability to extract data across multiple disciplines and leverage data collected by other researchers. The Coral Disease Database also supports reporting systems and GIS-based tools to answer specific management questions. For example, if a rescued coral becomes quarantined, researchers would like to determine which site it came from (Rescue Database), what the genotype of the coral is (Genetics Database), and how many other corals were collected from that site (Rescue Operations Dashboard). The Coral Database may also be used to leverage supplemental survey program data to identify areas of high colony density or susceptibility. The database framework implemented by the IS&M section saves researchers considerable processing time by serving results in a format ready for analysis and map production. 

In the past 3 years of the coral disease response, IS&M staff have contributed the following data management solutions for SCTLD response: 

  • Data entry applications for researchers and citizen scientists to enter observations from the field. Applications include the SEAFAN and BleachWatch reporting surveys. These apps are free, easy to use, and can be installed on smartphones. 
  • Several web-based products including the Coral Rescue and Intervention Dashboards. These interactive applications combine maps, data summaries, and statistics and are a useful tool for visualizing and synthesizing data. These Dashboards are often referenced by researchers to communicate showcase scientific findings, advertise research capacity, and attract grant funding for future projects. 
  • The Coral Data Hub, a one-stop portal for finding maps, accessing apps, and downloading data related to the SCTLD response. 
  • Data extracted by practitioners from the Coral Disease Database has been used for addressing high priority research needs including identification of disease hotspots and monitoring gaps. 
  • IS&M staff make regular updates to ongoing datasets to ensure end users are provided information as close to real time as possible. 
  • Instructional webinars and workshops to train end users how to use and maximize the potential of web products, maps, and tools. Also, responding to data requests from the public and provide data management advice and best practices to researchers. 

As the SCTLD response continues, IS&M staff are expanding their work to include the latest advances in cloud computing, machine learning, and fine-scaled spatial modeling. Efforts to leverage these innovative technologies include the following: 

  • Establishing a protocol for cloud-based storage and processing to accommodate increasingly large and complex datasets, imagery, and videos. 
  • Working with international research institutions to develop fine-scaled connectivity and dispersal models to learn more about how coral diseases spread throughout the Florida Reef Tract,  
  • Partnering with the Florida Aquarium to develop machine learning algorithms to automate detection of coral spawning events from real time video installed in tanks holding rescued. Looking ahead, innovations in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are capable of significantly reduce staff time and operational costs resulting in increased research capacity for future disease response. 

    IS&M is currently funded through 2021 to continue meeting the data management needs of the coral disease response. This project would not be possible without funding support from DEP and the Irma Recovery Grant. We The researchers would also like to express their appreciation for the time, expertise, and dedication of the numerous researchers and managers involved in the SCTLD response. Lastly, the team are pleased to acknowledge the contributions from their FWC counterparts including the Ecosystem Assessment & Restoration’s Coral Program, Marine Fish Research, Habitat and Species Conservation, and the Division of Marine Fish Management 

    This project serves an exemplary example of leveraging staff expertise and a long-standing investment in research technologies to support IS&M’s mission to “provide the right data, in the right format, in the right location, at the right time”.