Core drilling and examination of underwater excavation on 6 reef sites in south Florida and Dry Tortugas revealed that underlying topography is the major factor controlling reef morphology. Carbon-14 dating on coral recovered from cores enables calculation of accumulation rates. Accumulation rates were found to range from 0.38 m/1000 years in thin Holocene reefs to as much as 4.85 m/1000 years in thicker buildups. Cementation and alteration of corals were found to be more pronounced in areas of low buildup rates than in areas of rapid accumulation rates. Acropora palmata, generally considered the major reef builder in Florida, was found to be absent in most reefs drilled. At Dry Tortugas, the more than 13-meter thick Holocene reef did not contain A. palmata. The principal reef builders in this outer reef are the same as those which built the Pleistocene Key Largo formation, long considered to be fossilized patch reef complex.