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FLORIDA KEYS | The work to preserve the coral reef

High water temperatures lead to more action to save the reef
Posted at 7:30 PM, Oct 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-24 10:49:31-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Scientists hauled pieces of coral out of the water in the Florida Keys in order to protect them from the ongoing thermal water crisis.

The pieces of coral were then taken to the Keys Marine Lab in Layton, Florida.

“Those corals were not doing great," said Coral Biologist Jess Sandelli who was a part of the response team

HeaRT, also known as the Heat Response Team, jumped into action to try and save the corals in the Florida Keys. This was all in response to the extreme inshore water temperatures the area saw over the summer.

“They [corals] have a threshold that they thrive in comfortably," said Sandelli.

She went on to explain how coral prefers water temperatures no higher than 87 degrees typically. However, record-breaking water temperatures were recorded at times in the Florida Keys this summer. According to NOAA, a buoy in Manatee Bay in July recorded a record-breaking temperature of 101.1 degrees. Sandelli said the warmer water can cause the coral to start to bleach.

“They expel the anthellae they keep in their tissues," she said. "It essentially supports their immune system. So they are still alive but they are compromised.”

State and federal management agencies called on the team to help with the situation. Sandelli said HeaRT was a large team effort made up of four institutions from the US and one from the Bahamas. Together they pulled up an impressive 5,000 corals within the span of a week.

It’s not just about saving the existing corals either as Sandelli explained their efforts will help preserve the gene pool of the coral too.

"They are gene banking every single one of those species. So they are breaking off two fragments and we helped drive them to two different land-based nurseries.”

Sandelli said it’s heartbreaking to see the dying coral, but such an honor to be a part of the solution as coral is vital to our state.

“Corals absorb high in the 90s of wave energy. They provide billions of dollars in Florida's economy through jobs, through fishing, through tourism, and through recreation. They are intertwined in the ecosystem that supports our state.”

Sandelli said her team which is based in Apollo Beach will head back down to the Keys in a few weeks. They’re hopeful the water temperatures will start to cool down starting this month and they’ll be able to place some of the corals back into the water.