Coral losing color as global warming intensifies
Image of bleached coral. Photo by Australian Institute of Marine Science

Coral losing color as global warming intensifies

The breakneck pace of climate change is causing the demise of coral reefs at an alarming rate. As a result of the heat stress along Florida’s coast, the coral is losing its vibrant colors, which will eventually lead to the death of the reefs. The Florida Keys are in extreme duress and are now in Alert Level Two bleaching conditions. Increasing water temperatures break down the symbiotic relationship between the coral and their zooxanthellae, a unicellular algae that gives coral its dazzling colors. Under this stress, the coral’s color turns pale, a condition known as bleaching. Third-year and President of the Dive Club, Noah Tyler, recently ventured to the Florida Keys and saw firsthand the devastating effects of our warming waters.

“I was in the Keys towards the middle of July and I was driving with a couple of my friends down in Key Largo,” Tyler said. “The water temperature was 101°F, and because of the extreme temperature all restoration efforts had quickly jumped in to take out as much coral in order to preserve it and everything that didn’t get taken out, just immediately bleached pretty much.” 

Tyler is working on a thesis about the biodiversity index of the coral in the Sarasota bay area. 

“A week ago, I was at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron taking out a boat for the hurricane, and there was a bunch of coral that you could see that were just a foot deep and most of them were  just stark white bleached and that’s up here where temperatures are a little bit cooler.”

The rapid depletion of color in the coral also has a deleterious effect on the fish and sea creatures who rely on the coral for protection from predators and for nutrients.  Without coral reefs as a food source, the underwater ecosystem is disrupted. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suggested how individuals can implement everyday methods to help the fragile coral reefs. People can recycle, minimize the use of fertilizers and collect trash from the ocean and beaches.

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