UM rescuers are urgently trying to save corals from what could be devastating for oceans

MIAMI – Scientists and researchers from University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric, and Earth Science were out on the water off the coast of Key Biscayne recovering as many corals as they can.

The corals are from the two off-shore nurseries that are part of the school’s Rescue a Reef restoration program.

“Today we rescued maybe 15 trays of corals. There’s about 70 (fragments) of coral on each tray,” says Emily Esplandiu, research assistant at the UM Rosenstiel School Restoration Lab.

The coral refugees were expeditiously brought into the lab and placed into tanks with cooler water to save them. This urgent mission was launched Tuesday after reports came from the Florida Keys of a massive bleaching event. Thousands of corals are being lost forever and some of the more southern nurseries are reporting 100 percent mortality.

Esplandiu said the situation is very dire.

“We’re feeling pretty down about things,” she said. “I’m hoping it’s not a mass bleaching event throughout all of Florida’s coral reefs but I’m a little bit concerned. "

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, when water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching.

Can coral survive a bleaching event? If the stress-caused bleaching is not severe, coral have been known to recover. If the algae loss is prolonged and the stress continues, coral eventually dies. (NOAA)

It’s being described as the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever experienced. Corals thrive in water temperatures between 73 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit, but during this, the hottest July ever in the planet’s history, water temperatures have soared past 90 degrees for the past three weeks. This is igniting what scientists are calling apocalyptic conditions along Florida’s 360-mile-long reef, the third-largest barrier reef on the planet.

“When the corals bleach, they’re pretty much starving and if they don’t recover soon, this could lead to mass coral mortality,” said Ana Palacio, a scientist and coral biologist at NOAA.

And this would be devastating to Florida.

“(Corals) protect our homes. They are part of our economy. The coral reef matters to everyone in South Florida. So, we really need to be aware of the situation and realize a Climate Change is happening now and we need to start acting.”

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.