‘It’s inevitable’: Florida scientists expect coral reef bleaching amid high ocean temperatures and climate change

Florida’s coral reefs are not only home to over 40 species of reef-building corals, but also provide protection to people.

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Scientists are closely monitoring the only coral reef system in the US as a sudden marine heat wave raises ocean temperatures to unprecedented highs along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The waters surrounding all of Florida are currently 4 to 5 degrees warmer than normal this time of year, according to the National Weather Service. Ocean temperatures currently hover between 90 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit across much of Florida, which is very warm.

Scientists say the combination of climate change and the new El Niño phenomenon, which normally leads to warmer oceans, could have catastrophic effects on Florida’s coral reefs, such as coral bleaching.

The Florida Department of Environmental Conservation said that coral bleaching occurs when corals are stressed by changes in their environment and they “expel the colorful algae living in their translucent tissues,” eventually revealing their white skeleton.

“In Florida, this is inevitable,” said Florida Aquarium scientist Rachel Morgan, in particular. “Bleaching has become fairly regular. There were several major bleachings.

“Every summer is getting warmer. There is a bleaching event every summer and there are corals out there today that have survived those events.”

While bleaching doesn’t mean coral death is certain, Morgan said corals can only survive for a certain amount of time before eventually dying off due to a lack of nutrients.

“What are we worried about? [is] the heat is so early in the summer, it’s relatively early, it’s July. Already warm. We have yet to get through August and September, and if July looks like this, then it again makes us doubt about August and September, ”Morgan said. “Will these corals be able to withstand all of this or will mortality follow the bleaching?”

Morgan said scientists are hopeful that corals can recover from the inevitable bleaching, and even if that happens, there are still concerns about other factors that are “bringing them down” such as major weather events intensifying into human pollution.

Florida’s coral reefs are not only home to over 40 species of reef-building corals, but also provide protection to people.

The New York Times reported that coral reefs are the first to be hit by storms. In the United States, reefs generate $3.4 billion a year in economic benefits for fishing, tourism, and coastal protection, according to NOAA.

To combat the extinction of some coral species, endangered corals have been farmed in the Florida Aquarium to eventually return to the ocean.

But Morgan says that’s just what scientists can do.

“We are talking about a large-scale area. And there is very little we can do, and there are so many things we struggle with,” Morgan said.

Morgan gave a glimmer of hope by listing what the people of Florida can do to protect coral reefs. She said that for some it means watching their marine litter while in the water, for others it means wearing non-toxic sunscreen and being mindful of your carbon footprint.

Here is a complete list of how to protect coral reefs.

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