Miami's Coral Crisis, UM Scientists Mobilize, Rescue Reefs from Record Ocean Heat

Miami's Coral Crisis, UM Scientists Mobilize, Rescue Reefs from Record Ocean HeatSource: Google Street View
Carlos Mendez
Published on December 06, 2023

Miami's world-renowned sandy shores and temperate waters might be paradise for tourists, but the latest summer has turned the tables on the local marine life—coral, in particular, has borne the brunt. According to a recent report by CBS Miami, University of Miami (UM) researchers have scrambled to save South Florida's corals from devastating bleaching triggered by record ocean temperatures.

The crisis was stark. "That really sounded the alarm for us, that we could lose all the coral we had been growing over the last decade from this single bleaching event," Dalton Hesley, a UM researcher, told CBS Miami. To combat this ecological emergency, the team decided to quickly to put together a full-scale coral rescue operation, effectively creating a land-based ark to safeguard the corals from the unprecedented heat.

NOAA images have captured the severity of the situation, displaying visibly bleached corals—a telltale sign of distress. The phenomenon isn't new; every year corals undergo stress as waters warm, but the timeframes this year were dramatically shorter, speeding up the damage to days rather than weeks. With their latest endeavor, the UM researchers managed to return the most resilient corals back to the ocean once cooler temperatures prevailed. "Take those corals that have the toughness to them," another university researcher, Cameron McMath, described their strategy in a CBS Miami interview. "Those are the ones we're putting back on the reefs again."

There's no understating the gravity of this problem; the health of coral reefs has direct repercussions for the surrounding human communities. Hesley elucidated their importance, stating, "Corals are a living animal that create a framework that marine organisms call home, protect our coastline, and support out economy." This natural bulwark is the region's defense against storms and their associated floods and damage; without it, the consequences could be severe.

Despite the successful rescue, the future of these vibrant ecosystems remains uncertain. "Every single bleaching event has a long-term impact," Hesley warned, pointing to the grim reality that sustained warming could precipitate even more frequent and destructive events. The UM team's efforts offer a glimmer of hope, as some rescued corals presented in good health upon reinspection, according to Liv Williamson, a coral researcher at the university.

The crux of the issue lies in a rapidly shifting baseline; climate change is warming waters, putting the local marine infrastructure at risk. Hesley presents a call to action, recognizing the need to scale up coral rescue and restoration efforts. He emphasizes in the CBS Miami report.