The coral reefs of the Florida Keys are really something special. As the largest reef system in the continental US, it's no wonder that the Keys support a multi-billion dollar tourism industry centered on fishing, diving, and snorkeling. The keys are home to several hundreds species of fish and thousands of species of invertebrates, as well as whales, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles.
You'd think we'd want to make sure we didn't lose all this
Unfortunately, we ARE losing our coral reefs
- less than 30% of the planet's tropical coral reefs are healthy. In the Keys, living coral reef cover has dropped from 30 - 40% in the 70s to around 5 - 8% today.
Global warming is one of the culprits, causing increased coral bleaching
and providing an incubator for disease. Rampant development, high nutrient runoff, overfishing, and the death by a million cuts that is the lobster mini-season are also contributing to the die-off of the Keys coral reefs.
Incredibly, some people - even some environmentalists - seem willing to write off the Keys as a lost cause.
In fact, there is a lot that can be done to turn things around and save our coral reefs. In the long term, one of the most important steps will be to cut down on our fossil fuel consumption and start shifting to renewable sources of energy that don't feed global warming. Setting aside 30 to 40% of the Keys as a no-take marine reserve would help give corals a chance to survive short-lived bleaching incidents and protect complex reef ecosystems. Providing endangered species protection to elkhorn and staghorn corals
would be another good step, as would addressing land-based problems like irresponsible development and pollution.
The problems are pretty big, but they seem tiny compared to the consequences of not facing up to them.