Posted by: reefrescue | January 29, 2010

Coral in Florida Keys suffers lethal hit from cold

Coral bleaching, usually triggered by hot weather, erupted after this month’s cold snap, devastating shallow water corals across the Florida Keys.

Bitter cold this month may have wiped out many of the shallow water corals in the Keys.

Scientists have only begun assessments, with dive teams looking for “bleaching” that is a telltale indicator of temperature stress in sensitive corals, but initial reports are bleak. The impact could extend from Key Largo through the Dry Tortugas west of Key West, a vast expanse that covers some of the prettiest and healthiest reefs in North America.

Given the depth and duration of frigid weather, Meaghan Johnson, marine science coordinator for The Nature Conservancy, expected to see losses. But she was stunned by what she saw when diving a patch reef 2 ½ miles off Harry Harris Park in Key Largo.

Star and brain corals, large species that can take hundreds of years to grow, were as white and lifeless as bones, frozen to death. There were also dead sea turtles, eels and parrotfish littering the bottom.

“Corals didn’t even have a chance to bleach. They just went straight to dead,” said Johnson, who joined teams of divers last week surveying reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. “It’s really ecosystem-wide mortality.”

You can read the entire article at: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/florida-keys/story/1447907.html?storylink=mirelated

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