Sep 06 2018
We have the resources to save Florida’s dying coral reefs. Now, we just need the will.
By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio & Dr. Michael P. Crosby
September 6, 2018
Florida’s coral reef system is the third-largest living reef on the planet and the only barrier reef system in the continental United States. It supports more than 70,000 local jobs, draws $6.3 billion into Florida’s economy and buffers our coasts from wave energy and storm surge in our hurricane prone region. The fact that our reefs, despite their severely diminished condition, are capable of providing Floridians so many benefits is a testament to their importance and an indication of the enormous value restored reefs could deliver.
While much of the attention on Florida environmental issues — including our own — has rightly been focused on harmful algal blooms, an ecological catastrophe has also been unfolding on our reefs. During the last four decades, Florida’s indigenous corals have declined in some areas by more than 90 percent, with some species losing more than 97 percent of their populations.
Today, Florida’s coral reefs are experiencing a devastating, multiyear outbreak of a new, unidentified coral disease. Evidence suggests the disease may be transmitted by touch and carried by water currents, making it difficult to contain. While some have shown resistance, the vast majority of corals coming into contact with the disease, including some that may have taken hundreds of years to grow, die in as little as a month.
Corals growing in good water quality conditions typically are more resistant to disease. And it was recognized decades ago that to save the Florida reef tract, drastic action to improve water quality was required. Critical efforts currently are under way to restore the Everglades to enhance freshwater flows and salinity levels in Florida and Biscayne Bays, complete the Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program, and reduce wastewater discharges through ocean outfalls. These infrastructure projects will all augment nearshore water quality and habitat for reef species.
Despite continued progress on water quality, however, it is likely that our devastated coral populations will be unable to execute a quick, natural recovery of the reef. That means conservation strategies alone cannot solve this dilemma. A bold restoration program to actively assist the recovery of this ecosystem is essential, and we are closer than ever to amassing the scientific knowledge, technological tools and public investment and support needed to make reef restoration a reality.