Ocean temperatures around the Florida peninsula are hotter than ever recorded, threatening coral reefs and other wildlife and potentially damaging the state’s tourism-based economy. Just 1°C (1.8°F) above a reef’s normal temperature lead to coral expelling the algae they feed upon leaving them a ghostly white color and starving. Right now, sea surface temperatures around Florida have been more than 2°C (3.6°F) above for a week or two and ocean temperatures in the region don’t reach their peak until late August.
“We didn’t expect this heating to happen so early in the year and to be so extreme,” Derek Manzello, a coordinator at NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, told CNN. “This appears to be unprecedented in our records.”
Coral reefs generate billions of dollars to Florida’s economy and “about 25% of the marine species depend on coral reefs at some point in their lives,” NOAA’s Katey Lesneski told CNN. “That’s everything from the pretty fish that people like to look at to the large game fish.”
It’s “another cut in a death by a thousand cuts,” Manzello said. “It’s really an existential crisis for coral reefs as we know them.” (CNN, E&E News; Climate Signals background: Sea surface temperature increase)