Coral bleaching in Florida compared to ‘all of the trees in the rainforest dying’

The Bummer Summer of 2023 continues. There have been heat waves each summer for the last few years, but this summer’s heat feels different. It seems like we’ve crossed some kind of tipping point. In the Florida Keys, the ocean water got so hot that it caused unprecedented coral bleaching, a mass mortality event. CNN is reporting that even more of the bleached corals are likely to die in coming weeks. Some of the ocean water temperatures in the region exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is way too hot for coral reefs.

An urgent rescue operation is underway to save Florida coral species from extinction as a mass bleaching event and die-off from unprecedented water temperatures spreads across reefs in the the Florida Keys.

Multiple reefs around the Florida Keys are now completely bleached or dead in a grim escalation that took place in as little as two weeks, coral experts told CNN.

Experts now say they expect “complete mortality” of the bleached reefs in just a week, and worry reefs at greater depths could face the same fate if the unprecedented ocean warmth continues to escalate.

Extreme heat and a lack of rain and wind pushed water temperatures around Florida to some of the highest levels ever observed anywhere. A buoy in the Florida Bay hit 101.1 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of 5 feet Monday, in an area where coral is scant. Many other stations in the area topped 96 degrees, including one that hit 99 degrees, according to the National Data Buoy Center.

The most significant concentration of coral isn’t located in the shallower Florida Bay, where the readings were taken, but that matters little for coral around the Florida Keys baking in water temperatures topping 90 degrees.

Coral is extremely sensitive to temperature changes. Temperatures that are too hot for too long cause coral to bleach and turn white as they expel their algal food source and slowly starve to death. The water is typically in mid-80s in the region, experts said.

Temperatures at a reef managed by the Florida Aquarium were 91 degrees on July 6. The coral was completely healthy then, but when aquarium teams returned on July 19, all of the coral was bleached and an estimated 80% of it was dead. Another report from the Coral Restoration Foundation found “100% coral mortality” at Sombrero Reef off the coast of Marathon in the Florida Keys.

“This is akin to all of the trees in the rainforest dying,” Keri O’Neil, the director and senior scientist at the Florida Aquarium, told CNN. “Where do all of the other animals that rely on the rainforest go to live? This is the underwater version of the trees in the rainforest disappearing. Corals serve that same fundamental role.”

[From CNN]

Scientists are working on rescuing as much of the coral as they can, but 10% of the coral is still dying in the lab so far. Coral restoration scientists are truly doing heroic work. Two years ago there was a crazy heat wave in Washington State. I happened to be camping there on the Olympic Peninsula, the lush coastal rain forest that Edward Cullen referred to as the “wettest place in the continental US”. It was 114 degrees in the shade and so humid (because it’s a rainforest!) that the sweat on our bodies was not evaporating. We went to the beach to cool off and a completely rank, foul smell was coming off the ocean, so we didn’t go in it. I thought it was a red tide, which is gross but common enough. But it was actually the smell of millions of bivalves (clams and mussels) dying. Crabs were also cooked alive and killed from the ocean temperatures. This coral reef die off is even more catastrophic. I am hoping that more people wake up to what is going on and overcome any lingering denial about the effects of climate change. It has never been more urgent, the stakes have never been higher, for us to divest from fossil fuels and begin the thousand-year cleanup.

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20 Responses to “Coral bleaching in Florida compared to ‘all of the trees in the rainforest dying’”

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  1. SarahCS says:

    And yet didn’t a weather person in a red state get grief for mentioning global warming / the climate crisis in connection to the extreme heat he was reporting on with the forecast recently?

    The politicisation of the global warming and the climate crisis is already killing people and it will only get worse.

    Happy Monday everyone!

  2. Flowerlake says:

    Thanks for raising awareness on this issue!
    Props to the people helping.
    Corals and plant life are suffering worldwide.

    A small thing we can do: I hope more people will use any space they have outside to grow plants. Just get a bag of seeds and start sowing.

    Don’t have a garden myself, but I have a lot growing on my balcony. It’s super fun, even though I don’t know what I’m doing half of the time. This year I just planted random seeds in pots and whenever nothing comes out, I buy more seeds or used the ones I harvested last year.
    Now it’s a very eclectic mix of plants and flowers. Sometimes I wake up and check, only to see a pink flower popping up and I’m like: “When did I sow this?”

    Anyway, hope more people will do this. Some of my friends are now into it too

    • Giddy says:

      I have always gardened in my small way, but five years ago I invested in planting two trees in our front yard. I have carefully watered and fertilized them and the results are extraordinary. Those trees have exploded in growth, to the point that they now shade a significant part of the yard. In this horribly hot Texas summer those trees provide comfort and beauty. Last year my elderly neighbor admired the trees and said she wished she could add some, so we struck a deal; she is providing the space and I provided the trees and water them from my hose so her bills don’t go up. I’m now trying to organize tree planting for our whole street, and hopefully we will be a shaded street in a few years.

      • BeanieBean says:

        Check out the Arbor Day Foundation, you can get ten free trees! I just checked their website, and it says ten free trees by purchasing a $10 membership, so not exactly free. I just remember years ago I got ten free trees for my dad & it worked out nicely. They send you the right trees at the right time for your location.

    • pottymouthpup says:

      every year I try to add even more plants to please the pollinators. This year I even used 25% of the space for my veggie garden for sunflowers and wildflowers and have filled a baby pool in the back yard so the backyard critters always have some water since the bird bath keeps drying up. From the assortment and number of birds & bees (& wasps to which I’m very allergic so I just have to stay calm recognizing they’re usually only coming close-isn to me to drink from the more shallow water sourced I leave out) I see, I think I’m doing something right

      I wish everyone with lawn space would at least create an area of wildflower/natural growth on their property

      • Giddy says:

        I have a birdbath that I keep filled and also put out water for whatever animals need it. Just yesterday I was rewarded by the sight of a hawk splashing around in the birdbath. I was stunned and excited.

  3. StellainNH says:

    We New Englanders have been spared the excessive heat but have been inundated with rain. Every day. Lots of thunderstorms. Tornado warnings. Very unusual weather. This past weekend was the first sunny weekend since Memorial Day. I probably sound like I’m whining, but I am thankful that we are having all this rain because it has been buffering us from the heat.

  4. Fishface says:

    What makes me so mad is that while individuals like us try to do our best to make a difference against the increasing ravages of climate change, big business, airlines, cruise ships, effing oil companies, billionaires and their phallic rockets, the Biden Administration and pretty much every other government including mine (Australia) are gaily continuing with fossil fuel policies as if none of this were happening. I love that people are buying EVs and recycling like maniacs, but until we stop oil, stop eating industrially farmed meat, and stop the huge polluters, the trajectory we’re on won’t divert even the tiniest amount. I don’t think many people understand that even if we did all that tomorrow, we’re still probably going to hit 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by the end of this century. Sounds like so little but it will be the most significant change facing humans and every other living organism on our planet since the last ice age. I SMH when I look at all the stupid conflicts going on around the world – what are they fighting over given that we are facing our own demise? As a good friend of mine said, “he who dies with the most toys, wins”.

    • Twin Falls says:


    • BeanieBean says:

      Exactly. The oceans cover so much of the earth’s area that people have been able to ignore what’s happening out there, concerned only with the rising temperatures of what we’re experiencing on land. Unfortunately, one affects the other & we’ll start seeing that very very soon. Carina mentioned being at the beach with the bivalve die-off. Next to die will be whatever fed on the bivalves–seals & etc. All these ecosystems interconnect. I think I read that higher ocean temperatures are a part of what’s causing more extreme & more frequent hurricanes.

  5. Mle428 says:

    I live 5 miles from the beach in Southern California. We are typically spared most of the crippling heat, but the last few weekends have been muggy and so hot. Like Midwestern (where I grew up) thunderstorm weather without the relief of an actual stormfront moving through. I’ve been getting migraines from the oppressive heat. I’ve also spent more time in the community pools this summer with my 7yo son than I’ve spent in his entire life so far.

    This summer does feel different. I can’t believe that people are still denying global warming.

  6. Twin Falls says:

    I think it’s past the point of encouraging personal recycling to stop climate change. Countries, of course, need to stop reliance on fossil fuels but governments should wake up to the current conditions and start heavily investing into infrastructure repair and restoration to meet these changing needs. Food shortages are going to happen. Companies can’t be allowed to price gauge basic necessities.

    Also this is heartbreaking for ocean life.

  7. Coco Bean says:

    I remember camping at a national park on the west coast of Thailand in 2012. We snorkeled most days but the coral was all dead from the increase in water temperature. In 2015, I backpacked Tour du Mont Blanc and the glaciers in the Alps had receded so much that the locals were trying to cover them to keep them from melting. Since then, I’ve stopped eating meat, gone solar, and stay local when traveling. But, it won’t matter much what changes I make as an individual as long as governments and businesses continue to operate as if we aren’t in a dire climate crisis. Unfortunately, there is also an entire group who will never care about the planet because they think it burning brings us closer to end days/the rapture. Religion and greed will be the end of us all.

  8. BeanieBean says:

    ‘Thousand year cleanup’ is right, if we’re lucky. These are scary times.

  9. Rnot says:

    The loss of coral will devastate the fishing industry. Florida calls itself the “fishing capital of the world” but all those jobs and all that tourism money will wither away.

  10. juli8574 says:

    An Environmental Atty out of Florida was saying we aren’t doing anything really to prepare and when it is too late we will throw up our hands and say it is just too expensive to do anything about it

  11. Rosie says:

    We were in MAGA hell Marco Island during the week of July 4 and the water in the Gulf was easily close to or over 100. The pool temp was 98 according to the little thermometer. We visited this beach that we visit every year that is known for starfish and sand dollars. This was the first year that we didn’t see either. My husband and I guessed it was because it was too hot for anything to be coming up to the shore in those waters.

  12. bisynaptic says:

    Keep pumping oil, boys.