MIAMI – At the very beginning of the pandemic, a new experiment launched in South Florida brought joy and peace to millions of people around the world that were locked down in their homes.
It’s an underwater web cam in a coral reef located right off PortMiami that scientists now believe may hold the key to saving dying reefs not just here in Florida, but around the world.
“Miami is the Magic City, the magic is everywhere,” said Colin Foord, co-founder of Coral Morphlogic. “And to be able to live in a city that has megafauna swimming around it, to me is really special.”
An undersea symphony of life brought to a worldwide audience 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, through the lens of the Coral City Webcam.
“We’re in the vice city,” said Foord. “I mean, you can’t get more Miami than this.”
The hybrid art-science research project is the brainchild of Foord and his partner at Coral Morphologic.
Back in February of 2020, the team strategically placed an underwater livestream camera at a coral reef along the shoreline at the east end of PortMiami that the world would soon discover was teeming with life.
“We’ve seen over 185 species of fish,” said Foord. “We see manatees almost every single day, lemon sharks every day. We see sea birds, we’ve seen loons, we’ve seen sea turtles, we’ve seen the octopus, squid.”
All that, as well as playful dolphins, at least a dozen different species of sharks and rays, and 22 different species of corals, and counting.
“Five different species of brain corals,” said Foord. “We’ve got now Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral. Pretty much just about all the species that you find offshore have been able to pioneer here.”
It’s pretty remarkable given all the environmental challenges corals are facing globally.
Florida’s reef tract is the third largest reef system in the world. It’s rapidly disappearing, though, because of climate change and disease.
“Sadly, it is also one of the most unhealthy integrated coral reef ecosystems in the world,” said Foord.
In fact, as little as two percent of Florida’s original coral cover remains, and yet the corals living at PortMiami are flourishing.
And it’s the resiliency of these urban corals that’s now driving Foord’s research with the University of Miami and NOAA scientists.
“To try and understand how these corals are able to survive so close to the city with all of the anthropogenic sources of pollution, the extremes and temperature, and yet the corals here seem to be thriving even better than they are offshore and the national park,” he said.
Super corals that are reproducing and growing in an urban environment which has become a coral sanctuary.
As a matter of fact, when one of the 100-year-old sea walls of Star Island came crumbling down a few weeks ago, NOAA scientists rescued all the living corals there, some of the oldest in Miami, and brought them to the coral cam reef.
“Just yesterday 15 colonies of coral from the Star Island sea wall collapse where were transplanted here,” Foord said.
The very next day, Foord and Local 10 News’ Louis Aguirre went to check how those coral refugees had settled into their new digs.
“So far, they’re looking great,” said Foord. “The first several days after transplantation are kind of the most critical because you’re dealing with a coral that’s having to adapt and acclimate.”
It was a really good sign the corals will survive.
Some of the reef’s residents also came by to say hello. RJ the parrot fish, Lisa the lemon shark and Hunter the porcupine puffer fish, all identifiable by markings and unique traits.
“They actually do live here. it is like a city,” said Foord. “They’re not transients, but this is really their home.”
A home to an abundance of marine life.
A living laboratory for Foord, who hopes the corals could be the ones that will seed the reefs offshore and hold promise for corals around the world.
“You couldn’t build a better laboratory to understand how corals are going to adapt in the future,” he said. “If you want to understand how corals are going to be adapting globally in the future, you come and you look at Miami today.”
People watch the Coral City Webcam from all over the world on an average of 45 minutes at a time.
The diehards are called coral heads. And the coral cam’s YouTube channel logs about two million minutes of watching every month.
It’s free on YouTube, and through that, you can really begin to learn a lot about our local ecology, the health of Biscayne Bay.
To visit the Coral City Webcam, click here.
They are also on Instagram, which can be found by clicking here.