What’s going on?
Corals are composed of numerous individual coral polyps, tiny sea animals that receive most of their energy from zooxanthellae.
Zooxanthellae are microscopic algae that live within the tissue of the coral polyps and provide them with carbohydrates and oxygen. The algae also give corals their bright colors.
When corals experience stress due to extreme changes to water temperature or salinity, pollution, or other unusual adjustments, they expel their zooxanthellae and turn white.
Bleaching is not necessarily fatal for Florida’s corals, but it puts them under stress that can lead to mortality.
Florida’s Reef Tract is the largest barrier reef in the continental U.S. It runs from Port St. Lucie to Key West. In Florida, records show that coral bleaching has been increasing in frequency and severity since the 1980s.
A three-year-long global heatwave caused worldwide mass bleaching events in 2015 and 2016.
Why it matters.
Coral reefs play a crucial role in the marine environment. Reefs protect coastlines from storms and erosion, provide habitat for a variety of marine life, are a source of medicine, and over a billion people depend on the reefs for food, income, and protection.
What you can do.
- Learn more about the health of Florida’s reef from NOAA’s Coral Reef Information System.
- Familiarize yourself with the efforts underway through NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program.
- If you know a certified scuba diver, let them know they can help monitor reefs through BleachWatch.
- When visiting Florida’s reef, be sure to practice proper reef etiquette.