Because of the record-high water temperatures this summer, some coral reefs in the Florida Keys are losing their color weeks earlier than usual, placing stress on them and perhaps endangering their health, according to federal experts.
According to Katey Lesneski, research and monitoring coordinator for Mission: Iconic Reefs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s initiative to safeguard Florida’s coral reefs, the corals, which should be brilliant and colorful at this time of year, are quickly turning white.
Lesneski, who has spent a number of days on the reefs over the past two weeks, observed that the corals appear pale and as though the color is evaporating. “And some people are blatantly white.
And there’s still more to come.
This week, NOAA scientists upgraded the Keys’ alert level to their highest heat stress level out of five—Alert Level 2—for coral bleaching. When the average ocean surface temperature reaches roughly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) above the typical maximum for eight consecutive weeks, that level is attained.
According to Jacqueline De La Cour, operations manager for NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program, surface temperatures around the Keys have been averaging approximately 91 degrees (33 Celsius), which is significantly higher than the typical mid-July average of 85 degrees (29.5 Celsius).
She stated that previous Alert Level 2s were attained in August.
The small organisms that make up coral reefs communicate with one another.
The algae that inhabits the reefs and feeds the corals is what gives them their color.
The coral expels the algae when temperatures rise too high, leaving the reefs looking bleached or white.
The corals can hunger and are more prone to illness, but that doesn’t necessarily imply they are dead.
One or more coral reefs started exhibiting the first symptoms of bleaching two weeks ago, according to Andrew Bruckner, research coordinator at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Then some reefs lost all of their color over the past few days. Before August 1, that had never been recorded. Late August or September is usually when bleaching peaks.