Florida Reef Suffering Damage From Hurricanes, Lionfish, and Mysterious Bacteria
The Florida Reef is one of the largest coral reefs in the entire world, boasting a length of 160 miles. Unfortunately, this beautiful underwater area has been significantly damaged over the years, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. With hurricanes, lionfish, dangerous bacteria and more, the Florida Reef has endured all kinds of havoc over the years.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs between June 1 and November 30; thanks to these massive storms and the warming oceans, Florida’s coral reefs have been continually damaged — but this new bacterial danger has been especially pervasive.
According to WFSU, scientists have identified white marks showing up on corals across Florida’s coast, indicating that some of the tissue had died. Now, following last year’s damage suffered from Hurricane Irma, the coral bacteria has started spreading rapidly and causing even more damage.
This disease first appeared off Miami’s Virginia Key in 2014 and started spreading north, south, and west. But as of April 2018, the coral disease was discovered in the Lower Keys.
“It has encompassed now about two-thirds of the entire Florida reef track,” said Rob Ruzicka, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Research Institute. “And it is slowly making its way westward toward Key West. Hurricane Irma was a major issue with the spread of this disease because it stirred up the water and the mechanism for transporting the pathogen across became convoluted because it had followed this steady pattern of moving Westward through 2017 to the middle keys. But now it’s popping up on reefs in isolated areas.”
There are various groups of environmentalists and scientists focusing on addressing these reef bacterial issues. According to Earth.com, the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), alongside the Georgia Aquarium, is taking one of the largest coral restoration efforts in the world: the Florida Reef Tract.
Sadly, the Florida Reef Tract has lost nearly 97% of its Elkhorn coral and its Staghorn coral, two coral species that previously dominated the area but are now critically endangered. The CRF has planted more than 66,000 healthy corals across the Florida Reef Tract in order to offset some of the damaged that has already occurred.
“With Staghorn and Elkhorn populations in such dire condition, natural spawning and recruitment is becoming increasingly rare, as the spawn cannot reach each in the ocean currents while still active,” said Steve Hartter, senior aquarist at the Georgia Aquarium. “By out planting corals with different genotypes in close proximity, this will increase successful natural spawning in the future.”
Additionally, Florida wildlife officials are providing $250,000 to environmental research in order to address some of the coral reef’s concerns.
The Sacramento Bee reports that an invasive species of fish, the lionfish, has been eating native fish that are important to maintaining healthy reefs.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provided $50,000 each to the University of Florida, American Marine Research Company, R3 Digital Sciences, Atlantic Lionshare Ltd., and Reef Environmental Education Foundation. The contracts run through June 2019.
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