SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen all hands on deck on Florida’s coast as crews work to save thousands of corals from hot water temperatures.
Record-breaking heat waves last month have resulted in a stress response known as coral bleaching, leaving vibrant corals white and at great risk of dying.
Along with help from community partners, more than 70 Mote staffers transported thousands of stressed corals from offshore nurseries in Islamorada, Key Largo, Looe Key, and Sand Key.
Those corals are now being housed at land-based nurseries in Summerland Key, Key Largo, and Islamorada. Some also made the journey up to Sarasota to be housed at Mote’s Aquaculture Research Park.
Mote has been working on coral restoration projects for about 30 years now. CEO Dr. Michael Crosby described the bleaching event happening in the Florida Keys as “unprecedented.”
“We are trying to restore these coral reefs, and when you see these fragments starting to die from this unprecedented heating event, it is a bit of a punch in the gut,” Dr. Crosby said. “It is also a call to action for us. At Mote, we view ourselves as somewhat of a war footing in terms of trying to do everything we can with our science and with community engagement to restore these reefs.”
“We were not about to lose these tens of thousands of corals, so we went out and very methodically, scientifically, and strategically identified which corals were most stressed and in [the] most in danger of dying. Then, we implemented an evacuation protocol to try to get the most stressed and dying coral out of those offshore coral reefs and bring them to our land-based nurseries,” he explained.
Despite the bleaching event being one of the worst in recent years, experts at Mote have pointed out a silver lining.
“Everything we are learning from this is going to help us do an even better job. We are already seeing that many of the genotypes that we were putting out there that we have determined were resilient to these high temperatures; we are seeing very positive results in many of these genotypes, [and] are surviving these phenomenally high temperatures. That is good news, that is great news,” Dr. Crosby said.
On the research side of things, Dr. Jason Spadaro tells us there’s a lot of work to be done to continue building on that resilience through genetic diversity on the reef. Looking at which genotypes survive this heat wave in the water will be critical in that process.
“I know there are a lot of reports out there that 100% of the corals at this site or that site are dead, but that is actually not quite true. There are a few that are surviving and left behind, and we really want to look at those animals – how did you survive, why did you survive, what is unique about you, and how do we translate that into our restored community? How do we capture those traits and make sure they are passed on to the next generation,” Dr. Spadaro explained.
Dr. Spadaro says it remains unclear how many corals will survive, but they do know the number will be in the thousands.
“We are really looking realistically at October, November [and] December as targets for getting these corals out of the land-based facilities and back into the offshore nurseries. This is not the end of the Caribbean and Florida’s Coral Reef. This is definitely a bump in the road, and we will recover, and we are going to continue the very important critical resiliency-based research and restoration that we have been doing for the last 30 years,” Dr. Spadaro said.
If you’re wondering how you can help, Mote shared the following information with us to pass along.
“As part of this unprecedented effort, Mote has made significant expenditure of finances and human resources without any surety that the financial burdens incurred will ever be recouped. There are currently no governmental sources of funding to help reimburse Mote for these significant expenditures and the financial burden has become rather extreme to the point of negatively impacting Mote’s operations.
Please consider joining us in this effort to save our coral reefs and continue our broader mission of innovative research for positively impacting the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of our share marine and coastal resources. Make a direct donation to Mote by visiting mote.org/savecoral.”