What is happening with  the Florida Coral?

We all here at Reefnation have a passion for the oceans and the creatures and creations that are in them. We also know that our readers have the same general feelings toward this.  So when we hear the news of so many corals being destroyed worldwide by different methods, it breaks our hearts. This story is one that is really close to home for me personally, as I have always lived in Florida.

The amount of coral on the majority of the Caribbean reefs has greatly declined, as much as 80% in the last 3 decades. The reefs that are located in thw southeast, those that are a part of the majority of the western Atlantic reef province, have been being monitored for diseases, bleaching and other problems associated with human interverence in the area. The data from 105 locations revealed a 44 percent decline in coral cover from 1996-2005. In an overall look, that may not seem like a very high number to you, but it is a very serious issue.

We are in a state of decline for all coral, and in particular, the Florida coral. If things are not corrected, we may not have any coral worldwide if we can’t correct this. A large reason that this is such an issue is corals are very slow-growing. This level of a loss represents a serious and significant threat to local coral ecosystems. While we all know reefs can withstand varying levels of natural disturbance, they may not be as resilient to human-induced stresses. The southeast part of Florida has coastal resources are under intense stress. This stress is resulting from high population densities and coastal development.

We contribute to shoreline erosion with the construction of large coastal infrastructure projects, such as the installation of pipes, cables and wastewater outfalls for public utilities. These also damage coral habitat through mechanical impacts or degradation of water quality. Beach nourishment projects, in which large volumes of sand are re-located from offshore to onshore, can cause severe impacts to reefs. This being something that we often think is a helpful tool for our oceans, when really we are doing the opposite. Coral reef organisms may be smothered by sediments and reduced water clarity deprives corals of the light they require for photosynthesis by their symbiotic algae.

Projects that are dredge and fill projects, as well as, the construction of seawalls and docks, negatively impact seagrasses, mangroves, and more of nature’s communities that are inter-connected with the coral reef ecosystem. Projects like theses can directly impact corals by destroying them during construction, or they can result in indirect impacts, such as reducing the amount of available light when a new dock shades the seafloor.

We all also know that there is a certain degree of runoff from residential, industrial, and agricultural areas containing fertilizers, silt, chemicals, debris, and other contaminants. These are carried through storm drains to Florida’s waterways. Sewage discharges from waste treatment facilities, boats, and developed land areas contribute to coral diseases and death. Even when the sewage has been treated it contains high nutrient levels which trigger algal blooms that smother reefs. This may also contain bacteria and viruses which threaten the health of both the marine environment and humans. Pollution from people who live many miles from the coast can destroy corals as liquids and solids eventually make their way downstream to the ocean through our numerous inland canals and waterways, and through groundwater transport.

Physical contact from fins, hands, or equipment of boaters, divers, snorkelers and fishermen can damage delicate corals. Abandoned, improperly discarded, or lost fishing gear like line, nets, and traps cause physical damage to reef systems. Ships and other vessels that run aground or drop anchor on reefs can dislodge, overturn and crush corals.

Two species of coral ( known as Acropora cervicornis and Acropora palmata) that are found in south Florida waters and throughout the Caribbean are now listed as Threatened Species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2006. On geologic time scales, Acroporids were the dominant reef building corals off the southeast Florida coast. Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus), which is a Florida coral that also occurs offshore southeast Florida, was placed on the State of Florida’s Endangered Species List by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 1985. All species of stony corals (Order Scleractinia), including fire corals (Genus Millepora), as well as sea fans of the species Gorgonia flabellum and Gorgonia ventalina, are protected from being taken, attempted take, destruction, sale, attempted sale or possession under Florida Administrative Code Rule 68B-4216.

The most serious issue we have in regards to saving coral is a lack of public awareness. This lack of awareness also results in a lack of appreciation regarding the significance of coral reef communities and how they can be harmed is another threat to reefs. Increased public knowledge and community involvement in the protection of coral reefs will help to decrease the threats to this valuable natural resource. Please help to do your part in saving our reefs!