Record temps on Florida coast threaten severe coral reef bleaching

Rising temperatures in Florida’s waters due to climate change have sparked an extreme stressor for coral reefs causing bleaching, which has scientists concerned. “In the last year, it’s been really depressing because we’ve seen a lot of changes, and we’ve been monitoring sites from Miami for five years now, and we’re starting to see changes in those sites,” said Michael Studivan, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Health and Monitoring Program.

Just within the last week, as the U.S. South struggles under a heat wave, NOAA has reported Florida water temperatures in the mid-90s Fahrenheit (35 C). Normal water temperatures for this time of year should be between 73-88 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NOAA.

The extreme heat has triggered coral bleaching, where stressed corals expel their colorful algae symbionts, leaving them pale and vulnerable.

In response to the crisis, NOAA and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium are pooling resources and say they have come up with new techniques to propagate and transplant healthy corals. They are cultivating coral fragments in nurseries, ensuring their strength and viability before reintroducing them into the ocean.

Coral reefs create homes for millions of species of marine life, support healthy ocean food webs and protect coastlines, experts say. Florida’s coral reefs are also a tourist attraction and help support the local economy.

“We want to restore corals in these coral reefs in a manner in which they can now take on their own replication and put us out of business in terms of coral restoration,” said Michael Crosby, president and CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

Studivan said some of the corals in the Port of Miami are healthy which was a good sign. “We’re trying to figure out how these corals have been able to survive and whether or not we can use those same mechanisms to make them be successful as part of coral restoration. So we take corals from the port and bring them and repopulate some of our reefs that have been decimated.”

Reporting by Maria Alejandra Cardona in Miami and Key West, Florida Writing by Matthew Lewis; editing by Diane Craft


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