Posted by: reefrescue | August 31, 2010

Palm Beach reefs suffer significant damage

In the wake of a summertime cold water upwelling of unprecedented magnitude, six miles of coral reef from Lake Worth to Palm Beach is severely impacted.

On July 11, the water temperature offshore of Palm Beach plummeted from a balmy 84 degrees to a bone chilling 54. In the aftermath of this 30 degree temperature drop the first sign of trouble were thousands of dead tropical fish found floating on the surface on July 12th .  FWC responded and collected fish and water samples.

Not until July 28, did the full impact and severity of this event become evident. Acres of dead and dying corals were first documented by Bryan Clark, of the dive boat Narcosis. Bryan sent his photos to Reef Rescue, who quickly organized a team of coral reef experts to survey the reefs. Lead by Thomas J. Goreau, PhD, noted coral reef scientist, the group photographed and video taped the dying coral colonies. Dr. Goreau’s initial rough estimation is 50 to 90% of the coral, including federally protected staghorn coral (one of only two corals on the Endangered Species List) may have succumbed to the frigid water.

While cold water upwellings are common in Palm Beach County during the summer, this one appears to be unprecedented. NOAA researchers have begun to examine satellite imagery to see what role ocean currents may have played in delivering the shot of ice water to the tropical reefs of Palm Beach.

An event so unusual that even centuries old coral heads have bleached. An enormous Brain Coral on Horseshoe Reef, whose photo appeared on the front page of the April 2007 Palm Beach Post, is struggling to survive. The four foot diameter coral was the “poster child” in Reef Rescue’s 2007 successful challenge to prevent a new wastewater outfall pipe from discharging onto Horseshoe Reef (see: This coral that has survived hundreds of years and began life during the time the Declaration of Independence was signed, is testimony to the rarity of July’s cold water event.

 Coral bleaching ( occurs when the symbiotic, zooxanthellae algae, within the coral’s tissue that supplies food to the coral polyps is expelled. Most commonly the result of high temperature stress, cold water bleaching has also been documented. As recently as the winter of 2010, prolonged cold temperatures caused bleaching and mortality of corals in the Florida Keys. Palm Beach corals escaped the winter chill, in part due to the moderating affect of the warm Gulf Stream Current, which is closer to shore in Palm Beach County than anywhere else in Florida. According to coral experts cold water bleaching during the middle of the summer has not been previously documented.

While corals sometimes recover from bleaching, the severity of the July upwelling instantly resulted in mortality to many of the Palm Beach corals. We can only hope many of the century old corals will recover from this event.

Read Palm Beach Post article and watch video:



  1. […] with increased monitoring costs associated with the recent Palm Beach coral bleaching (see: added to our other projects we’re struggling to cover […]

  2. […] And more on the Reef Rescue monitoring of the Bath & Tennis Reef unprecedented summer coldwater staghorn coral bleaching and mortality event. See: Palm Beach reefs suffer significant damage. […]

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