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Ocean Temp Hits Record 101 Degrees - FL Coral Reefs Risk Extinction

By Belal Awad · July 31, 2023

Large Bleached Brain Coral on Pickles Reef, Florida.  Matt Kieffer/Wikimedia Commons

Florida’s coral reefs, the only true tropical coral reefs in North America, are facing an existential threat. With water temperatures reaching a blistering 101 degrees Fahrenheit this summer - a possible world record - the state’s delicate marine ecosystem faces the real prospect of extinction, say experts.

Wildlife conservationist and documentarian Jeff Corwin recently told MSNBC, “This is urgent. This is catastrophic… Up to what’s happening now, we’ve already lost 98% of Florida’s coral reef.”

Some scientists have already classified the reef as “basically extinct.”

The loss of these reefs would have far-reaching implications. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, a draw for tourists from around the world, they play a crucial role in maintaining the aquatic environment. According to Corwin, “About 80% of every species of marine fish, of every saltwater ocean going fish at some point in its life has a direct connection to the coral reefs.”

The disappearance of a coral reef is known as coral bleaching, when corals expel the algae living in their tissue, eventually causing the reefs to turn an unhealthy pure white. While the process can be reversed in robust ecosystems, Florida’s fragile reefs may lack the strength and resilience to recover.

Corwin likened the situation to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and urged a similar all-hands-on-deck response from the U.S. government. “We need to be all front forward, taking this on like the battle of our lifetime,” he said. “The State of Florida needs to step up and protect this ecosystem because it’s about to be lost on the current administration’s watch.”

Corwin described the reefs, along with mangrove forests and grasses, as the part of the Sunshine State’s natural “immune system.” Their loss would, he said, be an ecological catastrophe.

Light Wave commentary

The situation in Florida is a stark reminder of the effects of human-induced climate change and the urgent need for action. According to conservationist Jeff Corwin, the loss of Florida’s coral reefs would have ripple effects across the globe, while devastating the state’s all-important tourism industry. In any event, the Florida ocean temperature of 101 degrees is terrifying. If that is not a cry for help from a beleaguered planet, what is?