Ecosystem Conservation

Marine Ecosystem Conservation

Sustaining Our Seas

exploring the oceanIntimately understanding the function of fragile ecosystems along the coasts and in the ocean has remained one of our lead research priorities since the inception of FAU Harbor Branch. From the diverse habitats to the protected marine life they support, we examine their responses to pressures like coastal land development, nutrient and plastics pollution, ocean acidification, warming temperatures and overfishing. Study results are essential for policy makers as they develop sound conservation, management and restoration strategies to help protect and save our oceans.

We are inherently connected to and reliant upon the oceans. The connection is closer still for those in coastal regions, where the effects of disruption in marine environments, like oil spills, hurricanes and sea level rise, on economies, homes and lives can be profound.

Intimately understanding the function of fragile ecosystems along the coasts and in the oceans has remained one of our lead research priorities since the inception of Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch. “All of the species on earth are special; humans seem to forget that we are in this all together,” said pioneering FAU Harbor Branch researcher and ocean explorer John Reed, Ph.D. “If we become complacent about species dying off and losing important habitat, whether it on land or the sea, we have lost ourselves.”

What happens in the Arctic today happens in Florida tomorrow.”

Greg O’Corry-Crowe, Ph.D.
FAU Harbor Branch
Research Professor


The Issue

As environmental change continues to impact our world, this work is more vital than ever.

In Florida, hundreds of miles of beaches are experiencing active erosion, Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) have devastated economies and killed wildlife, and the ecosystems and tens of thousands of acres of critical seagrass and coral reef tract have been damaged or lost.

Floridians’ futures are intertwined with those of our plants and animals: the ocean economy contributes $30 billion annually to Florida’s gross domestic product; 90 percent of Floridians rely on clean groundwater for their water supply; and 2.1 million Floridians live in homes at risk of chronic flooding by 2100—or sooner.

  • In Florida, hundreds of beaches are experiencing active erosion
  • The ocean economy contributes $30 billion annually to Florida
  • 2.1 million Floridians live in homes at risk of chronic flooding by 2100—or sooner
  • 90% of Floridians rely on clean groundwater
  • Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) have devastated economies and killed wildlife

exploring the oceanFAU Harbor Branch Taking Action

Five decades of FAU Harbor Branch research has yielded a treasure trove of long-term data sets related to the Arctic, the Caribbean and the farthest stretches of the Indian River Lagoon.

Conserving Critical Habitats

The continued survival of marine plants like seaweeds and seagrasses is the root of healthy marine ecosystems. FAU Harbor Branch scientists grow seagrass for local restoration efforts and map natural seagrass beds and study their density, diversity and long-term health.

Protecting Wildlife

From sea turtles to whales and dolphins, FAU Harbor Branch scientists examine vulnerable and endangered wildlife by studying their populations, behavior, health and diseases, injuries and other threats from human activity. In addition, the Marine Mammal Rescue Team is on call 24-7 to provide help to marine mammals in distress, alongside our stranding partners and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Sustaining Fisheries

To study important and vulnerable fish species, such as bonefish, eagle rays, groupers, and sharks, FAU Harbor Branch scientists use advanced technologies to conduct stock assessments, identify spawning aggregations and track movement patterns, map the distribution of larval fish, assess feeding behavior and understand the link between fish and their habitats. This information assists resource managers in promoting sustainability of recreational and commercial fishing practices.

Understanding Impacts on Human Health

The dynamics of HABs and the extent of their impacts in Florida is not fully understood. Therefore, further research in these areas is critical. FAU Harbor Branch’s Florida Center for Coastal and Human Health (FCCHH) fulfills the unmet scientific need to understand emerging issues, predict their impacts and protect the health and safety of the Indian River Lagoon’s regional population. The Center combines leading expertise and multidisciplinary research to take on complex problems and work toward creating a healthy environment, population and economy.

Monitoring and Modeling

Advanced, in-situ monitoring technology is key to observing stimuli and changes in the environment. Using these data to create predictive models is key to sustainable management. FAU Harbor Branch develops, deploys and operates these critical technologies.

The Indian River Lagoon Observatory (IRLO) is comprised of 13, real-time water quality-monitoring stations throughout the lagoon. The unprecedented data acquired is freely available online and supports critical research and sustainable management.

The Geochemistry and Geochemical Sensing Lab develops and applies autonomous biogeochemical sensing technologies to uncover the intricate, natural processes that fuel ecosystems. These findings can be applied to inform hydrologic or climate models, environmental restoration efforts or resource management decisions.

Our Outcomes

  • Improved understanding of fragile ecosystems and the wildlife they support, including identified causes of declines in health and population
  • New and cutting-edge techniques to better study and save imperiled species
  • Scientific data provided to various agencies and non-governmental organizations for strategic management and policies
  • Trained graduate students who will go on to research or resource management careers as stewards of marine ecosystems

We use a combination of traditional and cutting-edge tools to provide the best available science to resource managers, the scientific community and the general public concerning theoretical ecological and applied fisheries and conservation issues.”

Matt Ajemian, Ph.D.
FAU Harbor Branch
Associate Research Professor

Why Give Today?

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute is rapidly evolving. Now is the time to expand our impact through private philanthropic support. The Institute is increasing its funding to core programs that will make a significant and timely impact on critical ocean issues in Florida and beyond. FAU Harbor Branch has strong partnerships with government officials, the Department of Defense and leading research institutions around the world. These key connections and partnerships ensure that we inform decision makers about science and how to ultimately mitigate impacts to the ocean and coastal environment.

How You Can Help

With your help, we can tackle one of the most pressing problems for our future—preserving fragile ecosystems and wildlife. With your support, we can further our research efforts to advance our knowledge of wildlife and their threats, as well as develop new methods and technologies for research.

Thank you for considering supporting this critical research area. FAU Harbor Branch values our donors as key partners in helping to achieve our vision: “Ocean Science for a Better World.®

Make a Gift Today!

Coral reefs may be under immense pressure, but if we are motivated and willing to support innovative research, effective management practices and novel intervention methods, we can save our reefs and the multitrillion-dollar economies they support.”

Joshua Voss, Ph.D.
FAU Harbor Branch
Associate Research Professor

HBOI ocean fish