Hot Gulf temps affecting coral reefs

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

The heat we’re experiencing is having a negative effect on important wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.

For a while now, Florida has endured one of the hottest summers to date. Now there’s concern about sea-surface temperatures.

On the shores of Fort Myers Beach, it’s hot—record-breaking hot.

Judi Barbee is visiting from Ohio, and despite being a heat-lover, she can’t even take it.

“Holy cow,” Barbee said. “That’s about as polite as I can put it. Holy cow. I love the heat, and I just said to her I have to go sit in the shade. This is too much today.”

And the water is not supplying the refreshing dip many are looking for.

Our marine ecosystems are feeling it too.

“Warming waters are something that coral reefs are going to experience as the change of the seasons occurs naturally,” said Jacquie De La Cour, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Watch program operations manager. “However, when you have temperatures that exceed the maximum monthly average temperature, for the region, by one degrees Celsius or more, that’s when corals are going to start feeling stress.”

The Coral Reef Watch program monitors changing heat ​stress on coral reef environments.

“Once those corals experienced stress, the process of bleaching can occur,” De La Cour said. “Coral bleaching is not a death sentence, but if a coral is stressed, and it bleaches, and the algae don’t return, because the heat stress is long-lasting, or it’s very, very, very hot, then what you’re going to face off with is death of the corals.”

That heat and stress are expected to continue. De La Cour said that right now there is a 90% probability that significant bleaching will develop around Fort Myers in early August, and that severe bleaching and significant mortality could develop in early September.

Coral reefs are the big cities of the sea, a home and feeding grounds for a wide array of marine life. If a reef is unhealthy, fish are not going to be there, but we too rely on a reef’s health.

“They also provide coastal protection against things like tropical storms. They provide a resource for medicines and the important development of those medical technologies,” De la Cour said.

De La Cour said her big concern is how early these marine heat waves are occurring.

Coming this early in July means the corals are going to be exposed to multiple months of this severe heat stress, lowering their ability to recover.

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