The Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Has A Grim Future. But, We Can Help.
Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Will Be Completely Dead By 2040
Florida coral reef ecosystem with only 2% of coral reefs alive in Florida scientists predict the remaining will disappear by the year 2040.
Just the other night, my oldest son brought home science homework that required researching the current condition of coral reef distress in Broward County, Florida.
Like you, I’ve been aware that the ocean is negatively affected by human activity from climate change to global warming, pollution, and one of the worst offenders’ plastic pollution.
I’ve shared a lot about my passion for the sport of bodybuilding since a young age, but a lesser-known fact is that in my late teens, I became a certified master scuba diver.
WHAT IS A MASTER SCUBA DRIVER? HOW DO YOU GET TO A MASTER SCUBA DIVER LEVEL?
The Master Scuba Diver is the highest certification for scuba diving, and it requires a combination of theoretical and practical training.
Theoretical exams include understanding risk management, scientific principles such as buoyancy, decompression theory, and marine life identification.
Practical examinations require the diver to show competency in things like deep water navigation skills and demonstrate their ability to rescue themselves or others by breathing underwater without any external assistance.
In my early 20’s I would participate with divemasters over multiple days exploring shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. The objective was to help local marine biologists complete environmental studies but to be honest; I enjoyed the exhilaration of deep-sea exploration.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF SCUBA DIVING
One of the health benefits that many people don’t think about when they consider scuba diving is its ability to reduce stress while also improving mood.
The water can be soothing, calming, and relaxing in a way that few other things are. It’s difficult for someone with high levels of anxiety or depression not to find some relief during their time underwater.
Studies show how swimming lessons can help kids who have ADHD or autism by assisting them in regulating their emotions better and improving their self-esteem through movement therapy. This all added up to an improved state of mental health.
FLORIDA CORAL REEF ECOSYSTEM PROVIDES MANY HEALTH BENEFITS
The coral reef in Broward county is vital to the local environment. It provides benefits such as health benefits, from reducing asthma symptoms in children, protection against sunburns during exposure on beaches, iodine uptake for improved thyroid function, and even skin cancer prevention due to UV radiation.
Yes, we were shocked reading that Florida’s coral reef helps with asthma. But, it’s true. Secosteroids, an enzyme used by corals to protect themselves from disease, are used to treat asthma, arthritis, and other inflammatory disorders. Pseudopterosins, a class of natural products, also comes from coral and have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
WHAT TYPES OF CORAL REEFS ARE FOUND IN FLORIDA?
Florida has a variety of coral reefs, some not as healthy and vibrant as others.
The Florida Reef Tract is the third-largest coral reef system globally, with approximately 350 species of corals living throughout this diverse ecosystem.
Though there are many types of coral found all over Florida, brain coral is one type that can be seen on most shallow-water reefs or even underwater within nearshore environments like bays and estuaries.
Brain Coral was named for its resemblance to human brains with folds and ridges along their surface, making them look like they have been cracked open at specific points (think about what your brain looks like when you crack it open).
WHILE MY SON AND I WERE COMPLETING THIS HOMEWORK ABOUT CORAL REEF IN SOUTHEAST FLORIDA, WE CAME ACROSS SOME DEPRESSING FACTS
As coral reefs worldwide face increasing threats from climate change and ocean acidification, scientists are sounding the alarm.
Florida’s coral reef systems, once home to some of the most diverse and vibrant coral in the U.S., have lost nearly 98% of their coral cover since 1992. Broward County has seen a dramatic drop in numbers as well, with only 2% of its reefs remaining healthy enough to be considered “resilient.”
Coral reefs are one of Earth’s most biodiverse groups of lifeforms, meaning their death or disappearance can ripple effects throughout our oceans’ food chains, including fish populations.
Sea turtles have been found nesting at sites where there was no evidence of any sea turtle nests over the past five years.
THE GREATEST RISK TO FLORIDA'S CORAL REEF IS CORAL BLEACHING
Broward County, Florida – A few months ago, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a report on coral bleaching in south Florida. They found that nearly 98% of corals were killed during this event.
BEYOND CORAL BLEACHING HERE IN FLORIDA THERE IS A DEADLY CORAL DISEASE
CORAL REEF WHITE BAND DISEASE
White band disease: the most common coral reef disease is white band or sometimes called white plague. Some call it “the perfect storm.”
CORAL REEF BLACK BAND DISEASE
Black band disease: black band can be a killer for coral and other sea life. It’s caused by one of two types of bacteria that produce toxins harmful to marine organisms in their vicinity.
HOW IS PLASTIC POLLUTING FLORIDA'S CORAL REEF
More than 480 billion pounds of plastic has already made it to the ocean, and its clear as time passes this number will continue to increase.
The National Marine Fisheries Service lists coral reef conservation sites in Florida but these are not organized by region or county.
The National Marine Fisheries Services shows the areas most dramatically affecting coral species, patch reefs, local coral colony, local Florida fish, reef fish, stony corals, elkhorn coral, carysfort reef and the entire marine ecosystem in Key West.
These chemicals can disrupt reproduction and growth patterns in adolescent corals by acting on their hormone receptors; this causes them to grow abnormally, leading to bleaching.
HOW ARE LOCAL SCIENTISTS MEASURING HOW MUCH DAMAGE HAS BEEN DONE TO A REEF?
When coral reefs are being destroyed, we must know how much damage has been done to a reef. To measure the amount of coral cover on a reef, scientists will use “transects.”
Transects are created by measuring out 100 square meters (or yards) and counting every piece of living coral found within this area. The total number from one transect can be extrapolated for other parts of the reef or even an entire shallow water ecosystem.
To determine what percentage of corals have died off, they also measure dead pieces and any rubble left behind due to fishing or pollution.
Scientists found that the coral reefs in Florida have lost 98% of their coral and are now at a historic low.
In Broward County, they studied 16 transects – 11 were dead or near death, with one having an alarming 43% die-off rate.
HOW CAN WE PROTECT BROWARD COUNTY AND THE FLORIDA KEYS CORALS AND THE ENTIRE CORAL REEF ECOSYSTEM
The Coral Reef Conservation Program was officially launched by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1981.
As of 2015, there were over 400 coral reef conservation sites around the world.
One way is to stop dumping trash into oceans and lakes, or at least try not to leave any more than you have to; this will reduce pollution that causes algae blooms, which depletes oxygen from water (which kills off fish).
WHAT ARE THE BEST CORAL RESTORATION METHODS?
Coral reefs are animals, so the best way to restore them is to get more coral into various places
One of the best coral restoration methods – coral can be grown in nurseries and then transplanted; it can also be collected from other sites or allowed to grow naturally on patches of rubble left by storms.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has successfully restored coral populations through these methods.
ALTHOUGH THE FUTURE OF THE REEF ECOSYSTEM HERE IN BROWARD COUNTY LOOKS GIRM
With such an unfavorable prognosis, you’re probably wondering how to save Florida’s reef?
It would require government bodies, commercial businesses, and dedicated citizens to work together. We found other local communities that have had positive impacts in other parts of the world, like Australia’s great barrier reef.
A fast and straightforward solution would be local government and State government banning fishing near coral reefs. By protecting ocean areas with special environmental protection zones, such as coral reefs and marine life preserves.
Fishers would not be permitted to fish in these protected zones without a permit issued by the government.
The permits should only be granted for research or educational purposes. ”Wider, stronger protections for our oceans are needed now more than ever before” says one scientist who was not involved in this study but wants to make sure that we take action now lest we see another catastrophic mass die-off like what happened during “bleaching events”.
Limit Carbon Emissions
Limit carbon emissions: According to recent studies, 30% of all CO₂ released into the atmosphere will enter the ocean over time.
Implement Stricter Regulations
Implement stricter regulations: stronger protections for our oceans are needed now more than ever before. With all of the recent studies that have come out about climate change, we need to take action as soon as possible.
Increase funding: Coral reefs provide food and protection from natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes. People must understand how valuable these habitats are, so hopefully, this study will help illustrate just how dire things could get if nothing is done to address this problem. “This research underscores a major environmental challenge facing us,” says one marine biologist who was not involved in this study but wants it to be clear what kind of effect human activity can have on ecosystems.”
THERE ARE ALSO BENEFITS OF ARTIFICIAL REEFS
Conservation and restoration: artificial reefs can provide a safe environment for coral to live in while also providing food sources for fish.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS ALSO WORKING TOWARDS LEGISLATION TO PROTECT CORAL REEFS
U.S. SENATORS MARCO RUBIO, BRIAN SCHATZ, RICK SCOTT, AND MAZIE HIRONO ARE WORKING TOGETHER BY INTRODUCING A BIPARTISAN LAW CALLED THE RESTORING RESILIENT REEFS ACT OF 2021
This bill had great hope by passing the Senate in December of 2020 unanimously but then stalled by the 116th Congress in the House.
WE CAN START A MOVEMENT WITH PARTNERS LIKE 4OCEAN AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
4OCEAN is a nonprofit organization that I’m going to reach out to and see if we can partner along with local governments to start a movement to preserve the future of our critical remaining coral.