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Corals: A 50-Year Photographic Record of Changes

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In 1960, before he became a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Gene Shinn began chronicling conditions at seven coral reef sites in the Florida Keys. What began as a hobby, he continues today, having established an unprecedented 50-year photographic record of changes in coral reef conditions throughout the Caribbean.

Shinn started exploring a new way of measuring coral growth at Carysfort Reef without removing corals from the water. It involved inserting stainless steel rods into the coral as a reference point, so that he could measure how fast the coral grew up around it.

“I started this work, putting stainless rods in coral heads, in 1960 and I thought it might be a good idea to take photographs. I didn’t realize what a good idea that was at the time.”

This passion for coral turned into 50 years of photographic documentation.

His images show 5 decades of changes that have taken place in both the size and the types of corals that were present at Carysfort Reef from the early 1960s to 2010. Shinn’s images capture the appearance of coral disease that began in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, coral reef growth and structure continues to deteriorate today.

Shinn has similar photographic records at other sites throughout the Florida Keys. At a site known as Grecian Rocks, he documented the die off of staghorn corals that were prolific until the early 1980s.

“It started to die in the late 1970s but most died between 1980 and 1988. Historically throughout the Caribbean, coral deaths started in the mid 80s and from then on, there is practically no more staghorn. Soft corals like Gorgonians and sea fans have taken over.”

Shinn’s images create a visual record that documents changes that have been observed throughout corals in the Florida Keys as well as the greater Caribbean. Today, researchers continue to monitor the health of coral ecosystems and study likely causes of changing environmental conditions.

You can learn more about coral reef research and see the individual underwater photos at Thanks for watching. The Coastal and Marine Geology Podcast is produced by the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg, Florida, Department of the Interior.


Title: Corals: A 50-Year Photographic Record of Changes


This video podcast highlights 50 years of photographic documentation of coral reefs in the Florida Keys.  The photographs show 5 decades of changes that have taken place in both the size and the types of corals that were present at several coral reef sites from the early 1960s to today.  The images capture events such as the appearance of coral disease and the die off of coral species like staghorn in the region.

Location: Florida Keys, FL, USA

Date Taken: 12/18/2010

Length: 2:25

Video Producer: Matthew Cimitile , U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.

Additional Video Credits:

Betsy Boynton (graphics, editing), Ann Tihansky (writing, narration) J. Harold Hudson (Video) Gene Shinn (Photographs, Narration)

For more information visit: The St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

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Tags: FloridaKeys coral disease reef species


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