Florida loses corals as the ocean absorbs heat, researchers say

Ocean heat wave emergency remains a possibility, expert says

MIAMI – As water temperatures rise causing a drop in oxygen in some areas, researchers are keeping an eye on sponges, corals, and other sea creatures in Florida.

Rachel Silverstein, of Miami Waterkeeper, a nonprofit organization that advocates for watersheds and wildlife, said South Florida is on the brink of an ocean heat wave emergency.

“We have high rates of coral death when they’re in that condition, they’re very fragile,” Silverstein said.

Tom Matthews, a research scientist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said a buoy in the alerted them to 101 degrees at Manatee Bay, an area that’s isolated, shallow, and has limited circulation.

“Bleaching is something that periodically happens in August and September when the ocean has already absorbed a lot of the high temps,” Matthews said. “To see it in July is very early and scared us.”

Mauricio Rodríguez-Lanetty, of Florida International University Institute of Environment, said coral reefs are a vital natural barrier against storms and are home to countless marine species.

“This is not concerning for the future,” Rodríguez-Lanetty said. “Right now, we are losing corals and we predict we are going to lose more.”

About the Author:

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.