Our Experts

Lisa Suatoni

Lisa Suatoni

Senior Scientist, Oceans Program

Recent blog posts >>

Alexandra Adams

Alexandra Adams

Oceans Advocate, Oceans Program

Recent blog posts >>

Sarah Chasis

Sarah Chasis

Senior Attorney and Director, Oceans Program

Recent blog posts >>

Lisa Speer

Lisa Speer

Director, International Oceans Program

Recent blog posts >>

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.

Bruce Popham

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."

THE CONCERN

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.

Coral Sensitivity

Many species of reef-building corals are particularly sensitive to ocean acidification in lab studies. Coral reefs provide food, shelter fish, protect shorelines, build beaches and create surfing swells in Florida.

Acidification Hotspot

Credit: Illustrations of sea life © B. Guild Gillespie / www.chartingnature.com

illustration of fish

© Karen Talbot

THE NUMBERS

The Florida Keys and recreation related to coral reefs at a glance:

  • $5.5 billion in annual sales (in 2008 dollars)
  • $2.5 billion in annual income (in 2008 dollars)
  • 70,000 jobs
Share | |
Find NRDC on
YouTube