HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Bernhard M. Riegl

Second Advisor

Richard E. Dodge

Third Advisor

Brian K. Walker

Fourth Advisor

Kenneth W. Banks

Fifth Advisor

John C. Brock


The reefs off Broward County exist as three shore-parallel, sequentially deeper terraces named the "inner", "middle", and "outer" reefs and also a shallower, nearshore ridge complex. These structures span the continental coast of southeast Florida from Palm Beach County to southern Miami-Dade County and were characterized as relict, early Holocene shelf-edge and mid-shelf reefs along with limestone ridges. Presently, the reefs are colonized by a fauna characteristic of West Atlantic/Caribbean reef systems. Scleractinian coral cover is low except for a few dense patches of Acropora cervicornis, while Acropora palmata is absent except for a few individual living colonies.

Coral reef core-drilling is a useful analytical tool to extract observable and datable geological samples from within reefs. This technique was employed to retrieve 4 cores from the inner reef off Broward County to better understand its age, composition, and Holocene growth history. Sub-samples from corals in cores provided 7 new radiocarbon ages ranging from 7,860-5,560 cal BP, and reef accumulation rates of l.7-2.45 m/1,000 yrs were calculated from these ages. In addition, coral species composition and taphonomic characteristics were analyzed to identify former reef environments/reef zonation, and signals for inner reef termination. Reef zonation was detectable but no clear taphonomic signal for inner reef termination was evident.

Current data and radiocarbon ages from all three Broward County reefs suggest that the outer reef accumulated from ~10.6-8 ka cal BP, the middle reef from at least ~5.8-3.7 ka cal BP, and the inner reef from ~7.8-5.5 ka cal BP. A lack of significant age overlaps between the three reefs has led to the assertion that they represent backstepping reefs in response to Holocene sea-level rise. This study has provided the oldest and youngest ages from the inner reef thus far, and confirms that reef backstepping from the outer reef to the inner reef occurred within just a few hundred years after the termination of the outer reef. The middle reef remains poorly understood and thus a definitive Holocene growth history and ultimately an understanding of their formation are still largely unknown.

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