Jul 25, 2023 - Climate

USF marine lab to house thousands of coral as ocean temperatures warm

Coral at the  Keys Marine Laboratory.

Photo: Courtesy of the University of South Florida

Researchers from the University of South Florida and the Florida Institute of Oceanography relocated thousands of coral from offshore nurseries to their shared laboratory in the Florida Keys.

Why it matters: Sea surface temperatures have jumped to unprecedented levels in recent months, putting coral — a habitat for marine life like crabs and sharks — at greater risk of dying.

  • Once-rare marine heatwaves are becoming more common. The number of marine heatwave days doubled between 1982 and 2016 and is projected to increase even more, writes Axios' Alison Snyder.

Zoom in: The marine lab contains one of the largest temperature-controlled seawater systems in the Florida Keys, according to a news release. It can house thousands more coral, which researchers anticipate will be needed.

  • The coral will likely be housed for months before researchers can return them to their natural environments when ocean temperatures eventually wane. They will be reattached to reefs via epoxy, cement, zip ties and nails.
  • Other coral will be sent to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa for its breeding program which can help the species produce "hundreds of offspring every year," the news release said.

The big picture: Experts say the combination of El Niño and global warming will bring a "stepwise" decline in marine ecosystem capacity.

  • "It's not steady and gradual, it's a cliff that species and ecosystems fall off," Kim Cobb, an earth sciences professor at Brown University, told Axios in June.

What they're saying: "For years we have been developing the infrastructure capacity to support reef restoration efforts that enable [the laboratory] to temporarily house corals during emergencies such as this," Cynthia Lewis, director of the Keys Marine Laboratory, said in the release.


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