August 28, 2011

Study Investigates Cold Weather’s Effect On Florida Reefs


The record-breaking cold weather experienced in Florida last year resulted in large losses among coral reef species, researchers from the University of Miami have discovered.

Reporting in this month's edition of the journal PLoS One, scientists at the school's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science discovered a "catastrophic loss of corals within the Florida Reef Tract, which spans 160 miles (260 kilometers) from Miami to the Dry Tortugas and is the only living barrier reef in the continental U.S."

Those losses resulted from the January temperatures that dropped Florida's air temperature to an all time low of 30 degrees Fahrenheit and ocean temperatures to 51 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diego Lirman, lead author of the study and an associate professor at the Rosenstiel School, called the loss of coral "a major setback" and the "undoubtedly the single worst event on record for Florida corals."

"Centuries-old coral colonies were lost in a matter of days," he added.

According to a University of Miami press release, members of the Florida Reef Resilience Program, a collaboration of Florida-based scientists and resource managers, surveyed 76 reef sites at various locations throughout the state, both before and after the icy temperatures.

"The research team compared the mortality rates of corals from the cold event to warm-water events, such as the highly publicized bleaching event in 2005, and concluded that the cold-water event cause even more widespread morality than previous warm-water events," they said.

"The study found coral tissue mortality reached over 40-percent for several important reef-building species and that large colonies in shallow and near-shore reefs were hardest hit," the press release added. "This is in contrast to a less than one-percent tissue mortality caused by warm-water events since 2005. Coral species that had previously proven tolerant to higher-than-normal ocean temperatures were most affected by the cold-water event."

The study, which was entitled "Severe 2010 Cold-Water Event Caused Unprecedented Mortality to Corals of the Florida Reef Tract and Reversed Previous Survivorship Patterns," was supported by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, The Nature Conservancy, and the ARRA program, the University said in their August 26 press release.


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