Underwater surveys conducted by the Florida Reef Resilience Program, from August through October, found “prevalence of diseased corals among the sites in 2016 was greater than what was documented in both 2014 and 2015.”
“The highest concentration of severely diseased sites in 2016 was located within the Upper Keys sub-region, where severe bleaching and paling had also occurred in some areas,” says a report issued Monday.
The Reef Resilience Program is spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy with participation by agencies including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mote Marine Laboratory, National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Nova Southeastern University and University of Miami.
“Since waters did not reach the extreme temperatures seen in previous years, mass bleaching was less prevalent this year,” said Nature Conservancy marine-science technician Jennifer Stein, “but with multiple diseases impacting so many species of coral, the reefs are still imperiled.”
The report notes, “The ongoing disease outbreak has been a continuing concern among reef managers and local scientists. While disease outbreaks are not unprecedented along the Florida reef tract, the current outbreak is particularly troubling in that it has persisted and continued to spread since 2014, includes multiple diseases, and has affected at least 18 species of coral.”
Marine researchers continue to monitor the reefs.
Winds and storms in September and October apparently helped cool sea-surface temperatures, helped reduce coral bleaching overall.
“Severe bleaching — areas where greater than 50 percent of hard coral colonies experience paling or bleaching — was recorded in a few areas of the Upper Keys.”
Also in the Keys, moderate bleaching occurred in some Upper Keys, Lower Keys and Dry Tortugas sub-regions.