Sea temperatures lead to unprecedented, dangerous bleaching of Florida’s coral reef, experts say

Aug 17, 2023, 2:13 PM

FILE - Pieces of stag horn coral are shown growing in Nova Southeastern University's offshore coral...

FILE - Pieces of stag horn coral are shown growing in Nova Southeastern University's offshore coral reef nursery in about 22 feet of water, Sept. 27, 2012, near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. As temperatures rise, coral in the waters around southeast Florida have never before reached the level of severe bleaching and likely death that is currently happening, federal scientists said Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

The coral reef off southeast Florida is experiencing an unprecedented and potentially deadly level of bleaching this summer because of rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change, federal scientists said Thursday.

Some sites around the Florida Keys are being exposed to twice the amount of heat stress that causes corals to die, and earlier in the year than ever before, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a telephone news conference. They said the phenomenon is likely to affect the Caribbean very soon and a global bleaching event could be just around the corner.

“We are quite concerned and worried and stressed about this event,” said Ian Enochs, a research ecologist at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory. “It’s not a normal thing.”

Ocean surface temperatures off the Florida coast have risen to above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) this summer, but scientists said they won’t know the extent of damage until early next year.

The Florida Coral Reef is the world’s third-largest, extending about 350 miles (563 kilometers) from the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico to St. Lucie Inlet, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Miami. The coral reef ecosystem sustains thousands of marine life species, protects against erosion and supports tourism based on scuba, snorkeling and fishing.

Coral reefs are made up of tiny organisms that link together. The reefs get their color from the algae that live inside them and are the corals’ food. When temperatures get too high, the corals expel the algae, making the reefs appear white or bleached. That doesn’t mean they are dead, but the corals can starve and are more susceptible to disease.

Already, there is coral bleaching along the Pacific coasts of Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and Panama, as well as along the Atlantic coasts of Belize, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands. Sharks have disappeared off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, because of the water temperature.

“Florida is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Derek Manzello, coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Program. “The scale of this event is very alarming. We are talking about thousands upon thousands of miles of coral reefs undergoing bleaching from severe heat stress.”

At this point, a tropical storm or hurricane — although undesirable for other reasons — would be the best way to cool the waters and limit the damage, Manzello said.

“Unless we have significant changes in weather patterns, we are marching toward heat stress for the Caribbean in a matter of days or weeks,” he said.

The world’s oceans have been record-setting hot since April, with scientists citing climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas along with a boost from El Nino, a natural warming of parts of the Pacific that changes weather worldwide and generally heats the planet. The bleaching happened rapidly as the water temperature rose in July.

Up and down the chain of islands that form the Florida Keys, coral rescue groups and government and academic institutions have mobilized to save the corals by relocating them to land-based facilities where they can be studied. The goal is to figure out which coral types are best at surviving heat stress and then using them to build a more resilient reef, said Andy Bruckner, research coordinator for NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Though the ecological collapse of the reef system is possible, Bruckner said he is optimistic that restoration efforts can keep that from happening.

“I think we are near a tipping point, and how this event unfolds will tell us if we are there,” Bruckner said. “But I don’t feel it’s too late.”


Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP

United States News

Associated Press

Federal agency sues Chipotle after a Kansas manager allegedly ripped off an employee’s hijab

A federal agency has sued the restaurant chain Chipotle, accusing it of religious harassment and retaliation after a manager at a Kansas location forcibly removed an employee’s hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that in 2021, an assistant manager at a Chipotle […]

1 hour ago

(AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS...

Associated Press

On the brink of a federal shutdown, the House passes a 45-day funding plan and sends it to Senate

On the brink of a federal government shutdown, the House on Saturday swiftly approved a 45-day funding bill to keep federal agencies open as Speaker Kevin McCarthy dropped demands for steep spending cuts and relied on Democratic votes for passage to send the package to the Senate.

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Virginia ex-superintendent convicted of misdemeanor in firing of teacher

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia jury has convicted a former schools superintendent on a misdemeanor charge in connection with what prosecutors said was the retaliatory firing of a teacher who reported that an elementary school student inappropriately touched her. Former Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler was acquitted on a separate misdemeanor count […]

2 hours ago

Doris Peters calls voters during a phone bank event Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at the Republican Par...

Associated Press

Anti-abortion groups are at odds on strategies ahead of Ohio vote. It could be a preview for 2024

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Abortion opponents in Ohio are at odds not only over how to frame their opposition to a reproductive rights initiative on the state’s November ballot but also over their longer-term goals on how severely they would restrict the procedure. The disagreements, roiling the anti-abortion side just six weeks before Election Day, […]

5 hours ago

Joe Heath, general counsel for the Onondaga Nation, walks into the Nation's Longhouse for a meeting...

Associated Press

Rejected by US courts, Onondaga Nation take centuries-old land rights case to international panel

ONONDAGA NATION TERRITORY (AP) — The Onondaga Nation has protested for centuries that illegal land grabs shrank its territory from what was once thousands of square miles in upstate New York to a relatively paltry patch of land south of Syracuse. It took its case to President George Washington, to Congress and, more recently, to […]

6 hours ago

FILE - San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein carries a candle as she leads an estimated 15,000 march...

Associated Press

Dianne Feinstein was at the center of a key LGBTQ+ moment. She’s being lauded as an evolving ally

Dianne Feinstein once stood at the center of a pivotal moment in LGBTQ+ history. Decades later, in death, she’s being lauded by LGBTQ+ leaders as a longtime ally who, if she didn’t always initially do the right thing, was able to learn and evolve. Feinstein was president of the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors […]

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.


Ignite Digital

How to unlock the power of digital marketing for Phoenix businesses

All businesses around the Valley hopes to maximize their ROI with current customers and secure a greater market share in the digital sphere.



Here are the biggest tips to keep your AC bill low this summer

PHOENIX — In Arizona during the summer, having a working air conditioning unit is not just a pleasure, but a necessity. No one wants to walk from their sweltering car just to continue to be hot in their home. As the triple digits hit around the Valley and are here to stay, your AC bill […]

Sea temperatures lead to unprecedented, dangerous bleaching of Florida’s coral reef, experts say