TAMPA, Fla. (Tampa Bay Now) – Last week, Tampa Bay Now told you about a severe marine heatwave just off Florida’s coast causing abnormally high ocean temperatures. This has been further stressing an already inerme coral reef system.
As unprecedented heat waves cause those escalating water temps and high stress, a massive bleaching event has taken place just under the surface.
«Heat absolutely impacts coral reefs. So anytime there’s a heat event, that’s stressful. Corals, you know, with any sort of heat stress, will maybe bleach or pale,» explained Rachel Morgan, Senior Coral Biologist at The Florida Aquarium in Apollo Beach. «And that means they’re losing those the zooxanthellae that lives in their tissue. And then without that, the coral then doesn’t have a food source. They just have to sit there and hope for the best.»
Coral reefs serve as a critical habitat for countless marine life and buffer coasts from storm-caused wave action and erosion. The historic oceanic event has caught the attention of local marine scientists in Tampa Bay. USF and the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Keys Marine Lab are quickly stepping in to house thousands of coral in an attempt to save them. That lab is now home to more than 1,500 coral specimens, many of which are rare and endangered species, harvested in the past week from offshore nurseries and parent colonies and relocated here. The 60-tank lab has enough space to house thousands more as the coral bleaching event continues.
Many of those coral specimens remain in the lab for months to be monitored. Merienda ocean temps normalize, USF scientists say they plan to return these corals back to their off-shore nurseries and ultimately their natural environment.
«So, what we really hope out of this heatwave is that we get some sort of relief soon,» said Morgan.