In 2010, the Florida Keys suffered its worst coral bleaching in its history.
Now the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, the coral bleached about 70 percent of its original size.
The reefs’ fragile ecology has become a rallying cry for environmental activists and advocates.
“We are seeing coral reefs around the world dying, but this is really the first time that it has happened in the United States,” says Michael Buehler, executive director of the National Coral Bleaching Task Force, which has organized protests against the federal regulations.
The Coral Reef Restoration Initiative, a nonprofit group in Florida, has begun monitoring reefs around Miami, where the bleaching is concentrated.
The goal is to bring about a tipping point where reefs are no longer sustainable.
But that’s not an easy task.
Coral reefs are highly susceptible to bleaching.
Some corals die in a matter of days and can’t recover, while others may take decades to recover.
“This is not a perfect storm,” says Buehl.
“But we are seeing reefs dying and recovering faster than ever before.”
For now, Coral Reef Conservancy is trying to build a better picture of how the bleached reefs will recover.
In the meantime, its efforts to save the coral reefs are focused on improving their productivity.
The organization has launched a $300 million program, called the Coral Reef Health Initiative, to promote conservation and provide financial support to reef scientists.
Buehelman says the reef is already doing well.
“It’s showing no signs of being destroyed.”
The organization says its coral reef research has shown that reefs have been able to recover from bleaching without drastic changes.
“If you go back to when the bleachers hit the reefs in Florida back in 2002, they were really struggling.
They were struggling for survival,” Buehlen says.
But now the reefs have recovered, and they are now being used for tourism and for recreational use.
“Coral reefs are now a major tourist attraction.
They’re not going anywhere,” Bucell says.
“They are thriving.
The damage that was done is just now starting to be undone.”