APOLLO BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – Amid rising sea temperatures blamed on climate change, scientists from The Florida Aquarium are working to save the Sunshine State’s coral before it’s gone.
The Coral Conservation Program has been operational for almost a decade, but its work has taken on new importance with increased periods of warmer weather threatening one of the region’s most precious recourses.
“I always dreamed as a kid to be a marine biologist, and it worked,” said Rachel Morgan, a Senior Coral Biologist for the aquarium. “Coral is incredibly important for not only our environment but our oceans. I don’t think people realize how closely they’re tied together, our ocean currents to our weather currents,” she added.
Inside several greenhouses, 18 species of coral are living happily in controlled environments, far away from the threatening warmer waters of South Florida. Scientists are researching, protecting, and spawning new coral with the hope that different genetic types will one day be able to adapt to changing ocean conditions.
“Personally, I think what we’re doing here is the most hope we have,” Morgan said. “Changing the ocean isn’t realistic. What’s happened is going to continue to happen if we don’t curb the effects that we can.”
So how long does it take? Morgan says that’s the discouraging part.
“We may not see the returns for years or decades, but if we don’t change now, it’s going to take centuries,” she said.
Since the 1970s, Florida’s coral population has decreased by almost 99%. Recently, water temperatures rising have contributed to what scientists call “ghost reefs.”
Morgan hopes the work they’re doing now can have an impact on protecting coral for generations to come.