LAYTON, Fla. (WSVN) — South Florida’s coral reefs are in danger of being harmed by the extreme heat, researchers say.
The record-high temperatures have caused coral bleaching and even killed marine animals. Now researchers are taking action to protect the reefs from this deep sea emergency.
The coral reefs off the Florida Keys are getting bleached by the unprecedented heat in the water. Experts said it could potentially be the hottest seawater ever measured.
“Hot water has been steadily increasing for the entire month of July, and to temperatures that we’ve never seen or rarely see, and the real main difference is that we’re seeing this temperature earlier,” said Dr. Cynthia Lewis, director of the Florida Keys Marine Laboratory.
Coral bleaching and deaths are being seen in what had been one of the most resilient reefs. Temperature readings have hit or exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
It all comes as sea surface temperatures worldwide broke monthly records in April, May and June.
Scientists are on a mission to rescue the withering coral.
“Well, we’ve have had a huge effort over the last couple of decades here in Florida and elsewhere around the world to create coral nurseries and to establish protocols for outplanting to restore the reefs,” said Lewis.
Thousands of fragments of coral are growing in shallow nurseries managed by scientists, but even these nurseries are getting hit by the heat.
“What we’re seeing with this bleaching event is that the waters are so hot out there that these incredibly valuable nurseries are experiencing the same heat that the reefs are,” said Lewis.
The Keys Marine Laboratory usually hosts 100 to 300 corals a month during normal water temperatures.
Just last week, they saw as many as 1,500 corals, many of which are rare and endangered.
One bit of positive news, though: recent heavy rains and cloud cover have brought urgently needed relief.
“Every little bit helps, and everybody was doing a happy dance yesterday with the rain and overcast conditions we’ve had, because it did really cool down. We didn’t have that radiation on the reef that we were seeing the past week,” said Lewis. “I have not heard reports of what the reef temperatures are, but I know that our temperatures here on the bay side of the Keys significantly dropped.”
While recent rains have cooled things off a bit, ocean temperatures are expected to creep up again and stay warm for a while.
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