THE LOCATION: Florida Keys
THE STORY: Keeping Corals Healthy in the Keys
Without healthy coral reefs and fish, Bruce Popham wouldn't have any customers. The owner of Marathon Boat Yard in the Florida Keys works on everything from commercial fishing and scuba charter boats to offshore fishing boats and large luxury yachts.
Photo: Sherry Popham Bruce Popham at Marathon Boat Yard.
He's also spent more than a decade restoring coral reefs damaged by warming seas, manmade pollution and overuse. Volunteers have planted 30,000 elkhorn and staghorn corals by hand to create offshore nurseries. But ocean acidification threatens to undo all that hard work.
Studies predict corals will be especially hard hit by chemical changes already underway in our oceans because of rising carbon dioxide emissions. Any additional stresses could devastate the state's coral reefs and the local businesses that depend on them, Popham explains. Yet the region currently lacks the basic equipment needed to monitor coral health and detect early harm problems.
"That's a key piece of the puzzle that needs to be put in place. It's critically important that we start looking for the canary in the coal mine," he says. "We are a tourism-based economy. If we start having major issues because of acidification, that's the livelihood of most people who live in the Keys."
In the Florida Keys, coral reefs are at risk. Studies show that corals begin to dissolve faster than they can rebuild in more acidic water. With reefs already struggling to handle erosion from waves, nibbling animals and nutrient pollution, acidification could cause them to lose the battle against these other forces.
Coral reefs, which draw 4 million tourists each year to the Keys, could begin to erode in more acidic seas. Many of Florida's most economically important fish species, including snapper, grouper, jacks and crabs, depend heavily on healthy coral reefs.
Credit: Illustrations of sea life © B. Guild Gillespie / www.chartingnature.com