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Florida’s Devastating Algal Blooms and Coral Disease

With the Gulf Coast’s red tide outbreak now in its 10th month and blue-green algae plaguing parts of the Southeastern Florida coast, the economic and ecological tolls continue to mount and are now headline news around the world. Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency, and FWC and other state and federal agencies are working around the clock to address the crisis. We are working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Mote Marine Lab and private funders to identify and begin field testing practical strategies for reducing the severity of red tide in offshore waters. More information about red tide is available here.

Nor are these the only serious ecological issues confronting the state: on August 7th, the FWC put out a call to the member organizations of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) asking them to join FWC and other institutions in collecting healthy samples of coral from the Florida Reef in advance of a rapidly spreading, highly lethal coral disease. The disease, which has spread from Martin County south to the Middle Keys, has attacked more than 25 of the ~45 species of stony coral species in Florida, and may be infecting other species as well, while continuing to spread south and west to the Lower Keys.

FWC, National Marine Fisheries Service, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the FL Department of Environmental Protection have begun development of a Florida Coral Rescue Plan to save what is left of Florida’s healthy coral stocks to prevent ecological extinction along the Florida Reef Tract for the most susceptible species and to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible for ~25 priority species in preparation for restoration and future disturbances. Unless this plan can be enacted quickly, one-third of the coral species found in Florida will become ecologically extinct, leaving nothing more than a few relic corals dotting the Florida Reef Tract. More information is available here.

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