Saving Florida’s Corals

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for ODP

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Seven years ago, Florida’s corals started dying. The mysterious illness, called stony coral tissue loss disease, quickly decimated almost half of the state’s hard coral. Florida’s reefs are the only coral reef system in the continental US, running up the state’s Atlantic coast from the Keys to West Palm Beach. In 2018, “it became clear that without drastic intervention, these corals would face imminent localized extinction,” the Washington Post reports. To save the corals, aquariums, zoos, and universities across the country adopted rescued corals. Divers took samples of healthy coral with the hope that one day the reef will be propagated with coral that can survive the disease. 

Why This Matters: While the exact cause of the disease outbreak is unknown, climate change has made coral survival more difficult worldwide. Even without the disease, Florida’s corals were under threat from poor water quality, destructive fishing practices. The level of intervention involved to save the reef shows the immense efforts needed to preserve wild systems in the face of human-caused ocean impacts.

Anytime you’ve got warm temperatures and increases in nutrients, it kind of creates this environment that can breed bacteria and increase things like viruses in the water,” Stephanie Schopmeyer, a coral ecologist from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told the Post.

Go Deeper: Explore the beautiful photos of corals that accompany the Washington Post story here

In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, another human intervention experiment is taking place to save corals. The reef has lost more than half its corals in just 25 years because of intense coral bleaching events caused by marine heatwaves. Now, researchers are trying to brighten clouds and block sunlight to keep the corals a bit cooler. Preliminary results suggest that their experiment of spraying tiny droplets into the clouds works better than expected—at least at getting the particles in the clouds. 

According to exclusive reporting by Nature, “Their mist machine might need to be scaled up by a factor of 10 — from 320 to around 3,000 nozzles — to produce enough particles to brighten nearby clouds by around 30%. His team’s modeling suggests that this could, in turn, reduce the incoming solar radiation on the reef locally by around 6.5%. Even then, the operation would require 800–1,000 stations to cover the length of the Great Barrier Reef.”

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