Extensive coral mortality and critical habitat loss following dredging and their association with remotely-sensed sediment plumes

Ross Cunning, Rachel N. Silverstein, Brian B. Barnes, Andrew C Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Dredging poses a potential threat to coral reefs, yet quantifying impacts is often difficult due to the large spatial footprint of potential effects and co-occurrence of other disturbances. Here we analyzed in situ monitoring data and remotely-sensed sediment plumes to assess impacts of the 2013–2015 Port of Miami dredging on corals and reef habitat. To control for contemporaneous bleaching and disease, we analyzed the spatial distribution of impacts in relation to the dredged channel. Areas closer to dredging experienced higher sediment trap accumulation, benthic sediment cover, coral burial, and coral mortality, and our spatial analyses indicate that >560,000 corals were killed within 0.5 km, with impacts likely extending over 5–10 km. The occurrence of sediment plumes explained ~60% of spatial variability in measured impacts, suggesting that remotely-sensed plumes, when properly calibrated against in situ monitoring data, can reliably estimate the magnitude and extent of dredging impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-199
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019



  • Coral reefs
  • Dredging
  • Port of Miami
  • Remote sensing
  • Sedimentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Pollution

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