Two weeks ago, my fiancé Stephanie and I took another journey to our beloved Florida Keys. We stayed aboard the Lucky Lady 2, a stately, well-seasoned southern bell of a boat permanently moored at the dock in Islamorada’s iconic Bud and Mary’s Marina. This marina is one of our favorite Keys destinations as it offers world-class blue water and backcountry sport fishing along with the consistently excellent Key Dives dive shop owned and expertly run by Mike Goldberg.
The seas were flat as glass for three days with little to no breeze, resulting in heat indexes well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Too hot to sit out on the main deck in the heat of the day. The awesome panoramic views aboard her deck chairs were best enjoyed in the early morning and sunset. A place of stunning beauty despite the high top-side air temperatures.
The real story, however, lies in our dive trips out to Alligator Reef.
To our astonishment, the water temperature on our first dive was 88 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of 65 feet. The corals we were diving to see became susceptible to coral bleaching in the 87F range. Over time, coral bleaching, which results when stressed corals reject the algae living within them, can result in the death of an entire coral reef.
It has been my experience that many people are not knowledgeable about the value and benefits of our coral reefs. I hear comments to the effect that “coral reefs are fun for snorkelers and divers to look at, but, other than that; they have no tangible value to the greater community.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Healthy coral reefs attract fish stocks that extend out beyond the footprint of the reef itself. Highly sought-after game fish frequently feed on smaller fish that have left the structural safety of the reef. Every fisherman knows that fishing is best near a reef. For tourism-based economies such as those in Florida and the Bahamas, this translates directly into jobs, full hotels, restaurants, etc. In less developed locations around the globe, people rely on subsistence fishing for their very existence. Humans are overfishing our oceans on a global level.
This combination of overfishing with increasingly unhealthy reefs poses an existential threat in decades to come.
Another frequently overlooked fact is that barrier reefs working in concert with healthy mangrove forests help protect vital coastal areas, the tens of millions of people who inhabit them, and the property within against highly destructive storm surges generated by tropical storms, hurricanes, and tropical cyclones. Because our oceans are warming, storms and their surges are getting stronger.
Humans do not have a demonstrated history of effective symbiotic relationships with the natural world. The fact is humans need the protection of coral reefs now more than ever. The reverse is also true.
Reefs need the protection of humans if they are to survive.
Key Dives is the home base for I.CARE, one of several organizations spearheading the restoration of coral reefs in the Florida Keys. These efforts involve planting baby corals grown by Mote Marine Laboratory.
Due to the high water temps the four days we were in Islamorada, I.CARE co-founders Dr. Kylie Smith and Mike Goldberg (owner of Keys Dives) decided to temporarily suspend planting of baby corals due to concerns about coral bleaching. For more information on coral bleaching and coral restoration efforts go to: icareaboutcoral.org or KeyDives.com.