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Florida corals at risk amid warm ocean waters

NOAA average ocean temperatures in mid to late July (Provided Photo/NOAA)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) –The water temperatures around the Florida coast have turned exceptionally warm over the last few weeks. Now, “coral bleaching” is becoming a major concern for the rest of the summer.

Coral bleaching (Provided Photo/NOAA)

In simple terms, coral bleaching is when the water is so warm that corals will expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. 

Sea-surface temperatures have soared well above average mid to late July. Coral bleaching typically begins when water temperatures reach at least 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the usual summertime maximum at any location.

Courtesy: NOAA

“That the MMM (maximum monthly mean) temperature is 29.63 degrees Celsius, or 85.33 degrees Fahrenheit, and the bleaching threshold is 30.63 degrees Celsius, or 87.13 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured by satellites,” NOAA Coral Reef Watch says.

The chart below shows that recorded sea surface temperatures are already easily into the 90s as of the end of July.

The Florida Keys in particular have already crossed the “widespread bleaching and mortality” threshold very early on in the year, considering the warmest ocean temperatures occur in September.

Actions have been put in place by NOAA to rescue the Florida corals. These actions include: halting all restoration-related planting, evacuating portions of their nursery-grown stock to climate-controlled labs, and exploring moving in-ocean nursery structures to deeper, cooler water,

Florida is not alone with the warm water with much of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean carrying above-average water temperatures. Something else to watch with these warmer ocean temperatures will be the Atlantic hurricane season.

An El Nino pattern is in place which typically brings in more wind shear to the tropical Atlantic and limits tropical activity. Warm ocean water may counter this climate pattern and increase development since tropical systems use the water as a fuel source.