Monthly Archives: January 2015

Patch of hopeful coral in Florida Reef

"Say hello to the corals." A cruise ship leaves Port Everglades.

“Say hello to the corals.” A cruise ship leaves Port Everglades.


Staghorn corals grow below, perhaps even directly under this ship.

Having healthy corals growing underneath all the cruise and cargo ships entering Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades is bizarre, and now researchers have found even more of them. New maps and surveys show large patches of the endangered staghorn coral running the entire length of Broward County, as reported in the L.A. Times.

 "B Bischof/Marine Photobank."

Staghorn coral can be propagated by clippings, giving another source of hope to reefs (by B. Bischof/Marine Photobank).

It’s even more surprising when you consider that staghorn coral is rapidly disappearing from the Keys, which has a small population of about 80,000 people, yet it’s growing nearby a shoreline with several million people. How is this possible? That mystery deserves a full investigation. One theory is that a warming ocean makes temperature conditions more favorable at higher latitudes. Too bad corals can’t walk–or fly like the snowbirds.

I hope someone will offer to take me diving soon to see these splendid corals. For now, you can fly over them by visiting the map on this page from Nova Southeastern University (scroll down to “South Florida Coral Reef Mapping Flyby” on right side), and select Watch our Video! As the map moves north from Miami, notice the three almost parallel lines–those are the three reef ridges. So, so close to shore and those millions of people–yet somehow stayin’ alive.

If that map makes you dizzy, try this psychedelic view of the Strait of Florida from outer space. The warm-water corals of the Florida Reef grow inside (slightly west of) the shallow areas shaded white (click on dot for Florida Slope). Notice the red area for Florida’s lesser known, deep and cold-water reefs. Deep reefs have even more coral species diversity than shallow reefs!

Can art help Caribbean reefs recover?

Building artificial reefs out of human bodies gets attention.

The movie Angel Azul (“Blue Angel”) shows the creative process for an underwater museum in Mexico. Snorkelers and divers visit the installments that are placed near a living coral reef (well, it’s mostly dying, but some parts remain alive).


Goodbye beach, goodbye reef

We have to let go of so many things in this lifetime, and one of those many things is living in Florida.

The new February issue of National Geographic magazine spells it clearly in the feature article Climate Change Economics. If you can only stomach one more article about climate change, read this one. Check out the excellent maps and graphics.

Treading Water – Photo Gallery – National Geographic Magazine.

It states:

“Many coastal places are at risk, but Florida is one of the most vulnerable. While government leaders around the world, in Washington, and even in Florida’s statehouse in Tallahassee dither over climate change, here on Florida’s southern tip more than a few civic leaders are preparing. Florida’s future will be defined by a noisy, contentious public debate over taxes, zoning, public works projects, and property rights—a debate forced by rising waters.”

On Monday, I spoke to the Miami-Dade County Delegation at a public hearing in Miami, and I sent this message about sea level rise: “STOP DITHERING.”

The noise and anti-dithering should extend to coral reefs, and National Geographic knows that too. Its video alongside the article, “A Stressful Time,” provides glimmers of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation for the world’s coral reefs.

Treading Water – Video: A Stressful Time – National Geographic Magazine.

Goodbye Florida. Goodbye house. Goodbye Florida Reef. Goodbye Everglades. Goodbye South Beach, and so on, and so on, and so on . . .


Hello coral reefs, you say goodbye, or “No Justice, No Reefs”

It can’t possibly be as bad as the scientists say, can it? The extinction of all coral reefs within a human lifetime? How does that possibly make sense?

The injustice of the coral reef crisis, and global oceanic degradation, requires many fundamental changes in understanding and in behavior in order to bring justice. It seems insurmountable. It might make you crazy. But it is essential.

Read the evidence for yourself, and start here with this listing of valuable resources (each bullet is a link). I’ve shared it with my friends at the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting, and I hope it will inspire a year or two of in-depth stories.

Will Great Barrier Reef lose is greatness? (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/Marine Photobank").

Will Great Barrier Reef lose is greatness? (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/Marine Photobank”).

With 2015 likely bringing an El Niño pattern, the next few years could be devastating for the world’s warm-water coral reefs. Dubbed the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs contain 25% of all oceanic species, or biodiversity, and they are the threatened with complete extinction this century.

Resources for El Niño:

Recent El Niño years (strong 1997-8; also 2002–03, 2004–05, 2006–07 and 2009–10) resulted in higher ocean temperatures that forced many corals into a stressful state called “bleaching” (actually the expulsion of algae), and bleaching becomes fatal if temperatures remain high for extended periods and the coral’s algae does not return. The worst mass bleaching events were in 1998, and many reefs converted from a healthy coral-dominated state to an algae-dominated state. An estimated 16% of the world’s coral reefs died due to the 1997-98 El Niño.

Resources for coral bleaching:

Children born today will witness the unfolding extinction of all coral reefs during their lifetime, if the status quo continues, according to the consensus of coral experts.

Resource for consensus:

Resource for world’s reefs:

The coral reefs of the greater Caribbean region are poised to become the first large ecosystem extinction ever witnessed by humans.

This report summarizes more than 30,000 projects on Caribbean reefs.

This report summarizes more than 30,000 projects on Caribbean reefs.

They are more vulnerable than Pacific reefs because of less biodiversity and extreme human pressures. The reefs around Florida are considered a “global worst case scenario” according to the 2014 report “Status and Trends of Caribbean coral reefs.”

Before and after photos of same reef in the Florida Keys (Phillip Dustan).

Before and after photos of same reef in the Florida Keys (Phillip Dustan).

The coral reef crisis is one of the most tragic environmental stories imaginable. Problems with the story include an “out of sight” mentality and fatigue of scientific doom. It has no singular celebrity, movement, or icon (like the polar bear).

A few decades ago, reefs were marvels of diversity and productivity that seemed indestructible. Today, they have been effectively cut in half from the first scientific observation, around the mid 20th century.

Resource for history

Reefs are essential and superlative ecosystems for many reasons. Coral reefs are the most valuable ecosystem per unit, yet their total value has diminished from $21.7 billion in 1997 to $9.4 billion today (based on values from Constanza).

Resources for economic value

A listing in September 2014 brought 20 coral species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, joining the previous 2 listed in 2006. These 22 species represent an exceptionally large listing of invertebrates; there were only 54 total marine animals listed as of 2013.

The IUCN has an analysis showing that the extinction risk to corals has rapidly shifted: “Coral species are moving towards increased extinction risk most rapidly, while amphibians are, on average, the most threatened group” (see graphic below). But no modern coral species has been confirmed extinct yet.


Graphic from: IUCN Red List Summary Statistics (2013). Trends in the status of biodiversity.

Resources for endangered species

Resources for Caribbean reefs/issues


If you’re really inspired, join the big email Coral-List that connects coral researchers around the globe.

Rally posters ready to rock the pine rocklands

Love the creativity! Thanks to Georgina and all the volunteers working on Rally for the Rocklands. See you tomorrow, 2 pm at Zoo Miami parking lot.

Did you know that 25% of all native plants in South Florida, more than 350 native species, live in the pine rocklands around the zoo? Amazing.

photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 1

Butterflies attack at Rally for Rocklands, Saturday

Hundreds of protestors are expected at the Rally for the Rocklands this Saturday. Here’s how I imagine the rally will go:

A giant butterfly the size of a T-Rex will emerge from the forest and swat away the greedy developers. Wait, that already happened at the King Mango Strut parade!

MPRC logo colorThose angry butterflies, more human than dinosaur-sized, will reappear at the Rally for the Rocklands, sponsored by the new Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition. You can show up with or without a costume to participate. Here’s what you need to know:

Rally for the Rocklands

  • Saturday, January 17 at 2 p.m.
  • Where: Zoo Miami parking lot (free!), 12400 SW 152 Street
  • What to bring: your friends and comfortable shoes.

From the parking lot, the crowd will walk to busy SW 152nd Street (as in crazy traffic busy) and converge on the sidewalk near the proposed Walmart site. Yes, Walmart wants to bulldoze the forest, and you can also place blame on the faciltators:

  • University of Miami: former property owner
  • Ram Realty: new property owner
  • Commissioners of Miami-Dade County: voting on March 3 to decide if the forest is a “slum.”

Ugh. There are almost as many guilty parties as there are endangered species within the rocklands.

You can bring your own sign, or join the pre-rally session for a group picnic and sign-making effort in Larry and Penny Thompson County Park (just south of the zoo), starting at 11 a.m. in Pavilion 2.

The rally may last until the zoo’s ticket booths close at 4 p.m., although parking remains until 6 p.m. It’s B.Y.O.O. Bring Your Own Outrage.

How pine trees became people

Steve showed up late even though he left the Miami Dolphins game early. He breezed into the Doc Thomas house and asked, “Who won?”

Nobody knew, not even diehard fans still waiting for a return to 1972. The serious-faced adults assembled around a long wooden table were too busy talking about a deadly assault on Miami’s most vulnerable trees.

10885080_10204361198242356_3469340406012382611_nTrees trump Sunday afternoon football for the newest group to form around an environmental issue in Miami. After a few meetings in the fall, they solidified their name in December as the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition. At each subsequent meeting, new people came forward who wanted to fight Walmart and other potential development on a parcel of extremely rare urban forest known as the Richmond Pine Rocklands.

Steve Liedner, a Miami Beach veterinarian, had connected with Al Sunshine, a retired investigative TV journalist who gave a rousing speech about the pine rocklands at a Miami Sierra Club meeting this past summer, and the ball kept rolling until a coalition had formed. The coalition meets at a historic house in South Miami, the base for the Tropical Audubon Society, which is appropriately surrounded by a thick native habitat but also within view of Sunset Place mall.

Burning is natural and necessary for pine rocklands, but not so much for Walmart.

Burning is natural and necessary for pine rocklands, but not so much for Walmart.

The problem they face gained prominence in the summer of 2014 when a developer announced that it had purchased 88 acres from the University of Miami. Located near Zoo Miami, the area represents some of the last intact pine rocklands on unprotected land. Outside of Everglades National Park, only two percent of Florida’s original pine rocklands remain. Its rarity gives it global significance.

For its first public action, the coalition takes its fight to the streets on the Saturday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Individuals can sign up for the January 17th Rally for the Rocklands on the Facebook page of the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition.

By the way, the Dolphins won that day, but they ended the season 50-50. The odds for the pine rocklands are much, much worse.