Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Mote Marine Lab, and Boston University recently embarked on a scientific expedition to investigate the underlying causes of Stony Coral Tissue Disease, the leading agent of coral coverage decline along the Florida Reef Tract (FRT).
The Alucia, a 184-foot research vessel, led scientists through a two-week scientific expedition to further assess the degrading health of the Florida Reef Tract struck by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. (Source: OceanX)
Dr. Silverstein received her Ph.D. from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science in 2012. Her research focused on the impacts of climate change on reef corals. Read more about her background in coral reef ecology here.
“The Florida Reef Tract is a national treasure; it is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet” - Dr. Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director of Miami Waterkeeper.
Florida is the only state in the continental United States that has an extensive shallow reef coral formation, extending from Port St. Lucie, 130 miles north of Miami, to Key West, FL. Over the last 30-50 years, the FRT has been threatened by a series of environmental stressors, including overfishing, nutrient enrichment, climate change, ocean acidification, coastal development, and dredging. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) was first documented off the Florida coast in 2014 and is now spreading further south to the Florida Keys. The outbreak of this disease has caused high levels of coral bleaching, where corals expel the algae in their tissues and turn completely white. These bleaching events ultimately create an ecosystem that is ecologically nonfunctional.
Warming oceans and ocean acidification have led to several episodes of coral bleaching. But since 2014, corals have experienced added stress and increased bleaching events due to SCTLD. (Source: FWC; NOAA)
Universities, non-governmental organizations, and governmental agencies have been studying the underlying causes of the disease at length. This scientific expedition aimed to provide updated and more detailed data to all entities studying this unprecedented decline -- documenting the current status of coral health and progress of the disease. Researchers onboard the vessel sampled seawater near the reef and sequenced DNA looking for elements of bacteria in the coral.
Coral reefs are extremely valuable to marine and human ecosystems combined. South Florida’s economy is dependent on a healthy coral reef ecosystem. They generate tourism revenue, provide for commercial fisheries, offer medicinal benefits, and protect our shorelines from storm surge. Mote Marine Lab’s Dr. Erinn Muller explains, “Over 70,000 jobs exist in Florida because the FRT helps to bring in over 16 million visitors to the state of Florida.”
To date, coral coverage is just 2% of what it used to be. Moving forward, we need to exercise best management practices, which minimize pressures from human actions. Researchers emphasize that current efforts underway to restore the reef in South Florida are crucial towards supporting reef conservation and restoration. Dr. Silverstein elaborates on the need to enact policies that aim to reduce pollution and protect our coral reefs too. National Ocean Protection Coalition's Amy Kenney reveals, “We know that by protecting places, life comes back.”
Watch the full video HERE.
Read more on our Protect Florida’s Reef campaign HERE.