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drawings of coral

Historical Images from the First Florida Reef Study

NOAA Photo Library

The first scientific study of the florida reefs

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The annual report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey for the year 1851 included,Professor Agassiz "Appendix No. 10, Extracts from the report of Professor Agassiz to the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, on the examination of the Florida reefs, keys, and coast."  This paper was the first scientific study of the Florida reef system . The field work was done on the Coast Survey Steamer LEGARE, Lieutenant Commanding John Rodgers and was an example of the far-reaching support of American science by Superintendent Alexander Dallas Bache during his tenure as Superintendent of the Coast Survey. This study was the outgrowth of Bache commissioning Louis Agassiz in 1849 to study the reef system as it was among the greatest of natural hazards affecting American shipping. Agassiz was a charismatic Swiss who was among the foremost naturalists of the mid-Nineteenth Century. His work in fossil fish studies and his formulation of the theory of widespread glaciation assured his scientific reputation. He had come to the United States in 1846 and was at the height of his personal popularity with the American public as well as at the zenith of his scientific career when he undertook this work for the Coast Survey. The following are extracts from the annual report for the year 1851. Illustrations of this work are found in a later publication of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and were prepared under the direction of Louis's son Alexander Agassiz.

EXTRACTS from the REPORT for 1851

P.68-69 Professor Agassiz has lent the aid of his distinguished talents in an examination, the results of which are embodied in a report discussing the topography of Florida, its reef, keys, coral reefs (living and dead,)ship-channel, main land, coast, and the physical changes in the Gulf Stream. Apart from the fact that this report would be too much extended by including that document, its importance requires that I should make it the subject of a special communication.

This examination was imperiously called for by the contradictory statements in regard to the character of the reef in its different portions, being by some represented as composed of living and growing coral -- by others of boulder masses of dead coral; sustaining, in the two cases, altogether a different relation to navigation, and to the questions of sites for light-houses and sea-marks. The very interesting question of the past growth of the Florida reefs and the formation of the present peninsula of Florida, and of the keys which form such remarkable appendages to it, has been fully solved by Professor Agassiz, who has also shown what may be expected in the future; and, establishing the fact that the existence of the coral depends upon the depth of the sea, proves that no reef is to be expected exterior to the one existing.


Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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