Ocean

How are scientists trying to save Florida's coral reef from extreme ocean heat

Florida's coral reef is experiencing widespread coral bleaching due to record-hot ocean temperatures.

Florida's coral reef is experiencing widespread coral bleaching due to record-hot ocean temperatures. Image: Unsplash/Matteo Vella

Michael Childress
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences & Environmental Conservation, Clemson University
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Marine scientist Ken Nedimyer collects still-healthy elkhorn coral fragments for moving. The tree structure keeps the corals free of harmful algae.
Marine scientist Ken Nedimyer collects still-healthy elkhorn coral fragments for moving. The tree structure keeps the corals free of harmful algae. Image: Reef Renewal USA
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A bleached mound of coral at the Cheeca Rocks monitoring site in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that had been previously tagged shows the coral skeleton.
A bleached mound of coral at the Cheeca Rocks monitoring site in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that had been previously tagged shows the coral skeleton. Image: NOAA AOML

A boulder brain coral, Colpophyllia natans, before and after bleaching during the 2014 marine heat wave in the Florida Keys.
A boulder brain coral, Colpophyllia natans, before and after bleaching during the 2014 marine heat wave in the Florida Keys. Image: Michael Childress and Kylie Smith

This year’s maximum sea surface temperature (top chart) and degree heating weeks (lower chart), a measure of accumulated heat stress, are the highest since record-keeping began.
This year’s maximum sea surface temperature (top chart) and degree heating weeks (lower chart), a measure of accumulated heat stress, are the highest since record-keeping began. Image: Adapted from NOAA
Degree heating weeks is a measure of accumulated heat stress over the previous 12 weeks. At 4-degree Celsius-weeks (7.2 Fahrenheit-weeks), corals experience stress that can lead to bleaching. Above 8 C-weeks (14.4 F-weeks), they are likely to experience bleaching.
Degree heating weeks is a measure of accumulated heat stress over the previous 12 weeks. At 4-degree Celsius-weeks (7.2 Fahrenheit-weeks), corals experience stress that can lead to bleaching. Above 8 C-weeks (14.4 F-weeks), they are likely to experience bleaching. Image: NOAA Coral Reef Watch

Youth members of Diving With a Purpose attend a training session and coral maintenance dive with the Islamorada Conservation and Restoration Education team in Islamorada, Fla.
Youth members of Diving With a Purpose attend a training session and coral maintenance dive with the Islamorada Conservation and Restoration Education team in Islamorada, Fla. Image: I.CARE
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Ian Enochs, a research ecologist and lead of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab Coral Program, found that every coral in the Cheeca Rocks area had bleached by Aug. 1, 2023.
Ian Enochs, a research ecologist and lead of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab Coral Program, found that every coral in the Cheeca Rocks area had bleached by Aug. 1, 2023. Image: NOAA AOML

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OceanClimate ChangeNature and BiodiversityClimate and Nature
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