University of Miami scientists say in a study that a 2010 cold water event off the coast of Florida killed off large swaths of Florida corals in just a few days. The study, “Severe 2010 Cold-Water Event Caused Unprecedented Mortality to Corals of the Florida Reef Tract and Reversed Previous Survivorship Patterns,” and authored by the university’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science’s, states that the cold water events caused by ice-cold Arctic air in early January 2010 destroyed corals in the Florida Reef Tract, the only living barrier reef in the United States that comprises 160 miles in length, from Miami to the Dry Tortugas.
The research team, led by Associate Professor Diego Lirman of the UM Rosenstiel School surveyed 76 reef sites over a one month period during and after the cold weather. The scientists compared the mortality rates of the corals during the 2010 cold weather event (Air temperatures reached a low of 30 degrees Farenheit while ocean temperatures went as low as 51 degrees Farenheit) with that of warm water events, such as the highly publicized 2005 “bleaching” event.
The study found that the cold weather event of 2010 was more destructive to corals than previous warm water events. Coral tissue mortality reached more than 40 percent during the cold event of 2010, with shallow and near shore reef colonies the most devastated by the weather. During the warm water “bleaching” event of 2005, less than one percent tissue mortality was recorded, the study said.
“It was a major setback,” said lead author Diego Lirman, “Centuries-old coral colonies were lost in a matter of days.”
The authors say in the study that the reefs devastated by the 2010 event will take decades to recover. Other factors that have negative impacts on coral include climate pattern changes, coastal development, pollution, disease, and overfishing. The authors state that measures such as reef restoration, marine protection areas, and pollution reduction efforts need to be implemented in an effort to enhance the livelihood of an important component of the marine ecosystem.