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Soaring Ocean Temperatures Trigger Coral Bleaching Event in South Florida

Extreme temperatures have been in the news and ever present this summer, with indomitable heat bearing down on much of the nation, and especially in Florida. Weeks of triple digit air temperatures throughout the Sunshine State triggered triple digit ocean temperatures in some areas of Florida Bay in the Florida Keys. This unrelenting heat has precipitated widespread coral bleaching, threatening invaluable marine resources throughout the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Florida Reef Tract. 

Coral bleaching occurs when corals are stressed by changes in conditions, from nutrients to light to temperature. In the case of the recent event, record-setting warm temperatures are causing corals to expel algae living in their tissues and turn white. Under normal conditions, the algae provide corals with necessary nutrients and food. Without this algae, corals essentially starve. Despite significant stress, corals can survive bleaching events if the stressor is short lived, but they are rendered vulnerable to mortality events. Sadly, the persistent increase in ocean temperatures have led to bleaching and mortality of all corals on certain beloved reefs in the Florida Keys. 

The heat suffocating Florida is not mere coincidence. It is the symptom of a changing climate and a hotter world, one that is powered by the unchecked use of fossil fuels. The devastation on the Florida Reef Tract is a clear signal that the Biden administration needs to double down on investments and efforts to transition to clean energy. This clean energy future cannot include new oil and gas leases, especially in the Gulf of Mexico. With the administration expected to announce its final Five Year Program for new oil and gas leases this fall, Surfrider is demanding action from President Biden for our climate, with #NoNewLeases for offshore drilling included in the final plan. 

In addition to calls to act on climate, Surfrider Foundation and the Florida Keys Chapter have worked on a multi-year campaign to strengthen and expand Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Surfrider has advocated for additional protections to nearshore habitats and adaptive management of the Sanctuary, including support for a proposed temporary regulation for emergency and adaptive management. The proposed temporary regulation will allow Sanctuary managers to take necessary measures to protect living corals and wildlife when threatened by unprecedented heat or bleaching emergencies in the future, which are all but assured by climate change. 

The devastation of coral reef and mangrove habitats in south Florida and the Florida Keys demands immediate, bold climate action if we want to have any chance of protecting these treasured resources for future generations. Local, state and federal leaders must commit to a clean energy future that harnesses the power of nature-based solutions for both our coasts and climate. 

Here’s what you can do to act on climate and protect the vulnerable ecosystems of the Florida Keys:

  • Sign the petition urging the Biden administration to include no new oil and gas leases in his final Five Year Program. 
  • Join the Florida Keys Chapter and follow their efforts to document the impacts of bleaching and extreme temperatures along the delicate chain of islands and strengthen protections for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
  • Sign the petition imploring the Biden administration to take bold action and invest robust funding for our coasts and climate, including nature-based solutions.