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The Dying Reef at Key Largo


The reefs at Key Largo are dying. The severe stress from summer’s relentless heat is taking its toll on one of the most beautiful spots in the North America Atlantic coastline. Over the past two weeks the ocean has warmed significantly around the coast of Florida. While this provides a comfortable wade in the big pool, it is life threatening for the reef.

This is my third trip to the keys and I had the pleasure of visiting a few of the same spots. The water was choppy with four foot swells, so the transition in and out of the water was a tad challenging. When I visited the watery bottom I noticed two things:

  • The area was much less inhabited than five years ago. This area is a protected marine reserve. Yet, I wondered if the area designated as sanctuary was big enough. No matter where I go these days, it seems that the number of pelagic fish has been drastically reduced.
  • The coral was bleached. It seemed that the bleaching occurred at the fifty feet or above level. At sixty feet I saw fingernail bleaching, but nothing like that at forty feet or above. However, no dive was free from bone white appendages pointing out that something is going terribly wrong.

It was kind of like touring New York City. Yeah there was much to see, but if you looked down, the trash was everywhere. While diving a site called “Renee’s Ball” along Molasses Reef I saw nurse sharks, mantas, and turtles. It would have been the perfect dive had it not been for the white specter of brain, elk horn and branch coral either white or white-tipped.

You can argue all day whether global warming is man-made or whether we are encountering some geological apex shift as a result of sun spots, geological shifts or alien invasion. The truth is that the sea is more acidic and warmer than it’s ever been.

Will the reef recover? At this point I hope for a hurricane or tropical storm to help lower the temperature of the water which hung around 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Such an event would stir the water with surrounding cool water from the East. I plan on going back sooner than later. I am curious to know how long it will take for the reef to recover – if it ever does.

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