‘Taking its toll’: Soaring Keys water temps threaten coral reefs — and livelihoods

MARATHON, Fla. – Scientists and meteorologists are sounding the alarm about high water temperatures in the Florida Keys, and the damage being done to the coral reef.

“Those of us who know are terrified,” said Frank Slifka, the director of coral outplanting at Captain Hook’s Marina and Dive Center in Marathon.

According to data collected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), the surface water temperature in the Middle Keys reached 90 degrees.

“Even when we’re out working on the reefs, we’re collecting temperature data, and we’re seeing temperatures even 60 feet down are in the high 80s,” said FKNMS researcher Katey Lesneski. “Which is getting really close to the point where corals begin to experience damage from that heat.”

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program keeps data on temperatures and stress on coral. As of Wednesday, the Florida Keys were on an “Alert 1″ level for coral bleaching. The highest level is two.

“If we lose our coral, we’re going to lose our fish, we’re going to lose livelihoods for everyone else. We’re going to lose our jobs because no one’s going to want to see the reefs,” Slifka said.

Slifka and other divers at Captain Hook’s said they are noticing a difference.

“You can see that a lot of the marine life left for deeper waters,” said Max Ebel. “You can tell it’s taking its toll down here.”

“If the temperatures continue to stay this high or get higher, we will see more paling, more bleaching, and, unfortunately, eventual coral death,” Lesneski said.

Slifka said: “If the ocean dies, we can kiss the planet goodbye.”

About the Author:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.