Posted by: reefrescue | June 5, 2010

As oil approaches Florida, Keys researchers find patches of cold-ravaged coral

NAPLES — They call the reefs the rainforests of the ocean.

This year, those “rainforests” in the waters off the Florida Keys are getting their yearly checkup a little faster and earlier, as oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico a few hundred miles away.

Fish and Wildlife Research Institute scientists recently finished monitoring reef sites in the middle Keys, and are planning to begin looking at reefs off the Dry Tortugas Islands next week.

They’ve been monitoring about 50 sites in the Keys for the past 15 years, tracking the percentage of live coral cover.

This year in the middle Keys, scientists found that normally healthy patch reefs in lagoon waters were devastated by a five-day cold spell in January, losing about 50 percent of their live coral cover. It was the worst loss of live coral cover they’ve seen in patch reefs since the monitoring began, said Rob Ruzicka, program manager for the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project.

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