Conservation Group Launches Florida Coral Reefs Mission And You Can Follow Along On Social Media

Jun 4, 2019

Impacts from climate change, overfishing and poor water quality continue to destroy Florida's coral reefs. The conservation nonprofit OceanX has launched a mission focused on conserving and documenting the reefs.

The scientific project, “Saving America’s Great Barrier Reef,” is a social media driven campaign that will track the health of coral reefs. OceanX will send groups of biologists and divers who study coral reefs out to the ocean for two weeks to conduct “real-time health checks” in over 100 locations across South Florida using macro and micro biotechnology tools that will show what keeps coral reefs healthy and what makes them sick.

Dr. Vincent Pieribone, the Vice Chairman of OceanX, joined Sundial to talk about the impact of bacterial diseases on coral reefs.

This conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.   

WLRN: Where did your interest for the ocean come from?

Pieribone: I was born in Florida. My first experience of the ocean was actually swimming out in the reefs in Miami, Biscayne Bay and in the Florida Keys.

As a young man you saw the reefs and their condition. What has changed over the years?

Way back when in the 70s and the 80s... it was magnificent. You would get in the water and see this rush of colors, of fish, of coral life. And then I came back years and years later. I have to say [returning] to Florida there [were] literally tears in my eyes as I [dove] in the water. This mission for me is a coming home but it's also a way to draw attention back onto the reef for Floridians.

What's the goal? How do you think OceanX is going about doing this?

We came up with this idea to bring an enormous research vessel called "The Alucia," which has plied the oceans -- to bring this massive scientific platform to Florida and do this. I said, 'Let's do a high intensity multidisciplinary study from one end to the other of the Florida barrier reef system.' We're gonna get this very high intensity snapshot of the current health of the reef. And do this sort of microbial health check. Just like in our human body the microbes in the reef are these symbiotic characters that live within the coral and around the coral and help it survive. Sometimes they're good. Sometimes they're bad like in our gut. When there's an imbalance of those, things go bad as in the human gut. We're kind of trying to do the similar experiments that they're doing in humans to understand what the correct flora should look like.

Credit OceanX Instagram

Where are the biggest threats coming from and [what is] the role we play?

There are the larger issues like climate change, but the local issues [are] the ones we're trying to highlight while we're down here because the other ones I think Floridians have the most impact on. The coral reefs have this beautiful clear water, which is the hallmark of a coral reef. What that means is that there's not a lot of nutrients in the water, not a lot of things for all the algae to grow it. If you add nutrients and essentially add fertilizer to the water the water becomes a bit cloudy and without cloudy water coral can doesn't do well. The light doesn't get to the coral, which it needs, for growth. That kind of pollution is one of those additional stressors and combined with climate change...

Storytelling. That's one of the keys to getting people involved. How are you going to use that and get folks to follow along on this journey?

At the heart of OceanX is exactly that concept: the science done alone gets to the scientific community and has impacted and is important but unless it gets out to the greater public the public can't choose and make decisions about their lifestyle based on information they learn. Our goal is to take everything we do scientifically -- and let me tell you it's a very difficult mission to combine science and media together -- take that storytelling and have our social media channels running at high. They will present every detail of what's going on in a way that's amendable and available to the public.

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Today is the first-ever #worldreefday. It comes as these vital ecosystems face unprecedented challenges from global warming, ocean acidification, poor water quality, plastic pollution, overfishing, human activity… It’s a long and depressing list. But we believe that we can turn things around. Which is why #OceanX, along with scientific partners @scripps_ocean, @woodshole_ocean, and @motemarinelab, are headed to the Florida Keys to undertake a first-of-its kind survey of America's only living great barrier reef. The Florida Reef provides habitat for more than 6,000 species and generates almost $6 billion to Florida’s economy. But over the decades the reef system has been in serious decline due to impacts of climate change, overfishing, poor water quality, physical destruction, and Stony Coral Tissue Loss disease. Coral coverage has become critically low in this region, with only 5% remaining. However, Floridians in recent years have made massive strides in improving water quality, curbing pollution, and supporting coral reef restoration. This mission will serve as a vital signs check on the reef, shedding new light on what keeps corals healthy (and what makes them sick), and helping us to better understand Stony Coral Tissue Loss disease. We hope that the scientific output from this mission will inform and support conservation and restoration efforts to revitalize the reef. We'll be posting live from #alucia on our social channels starting mid-next week and we’d love to have you join us. This mission was made possible thanks to the generous support of our partners @bloombergdotorg and their Vibrant Oceans Initiative.⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #motemarinelab #coral #coralreef #reef #ocean #underwater #underwaterphotography #fish #scuba #scubadiving #diving #reefporn #sea #reefaquarium #travel #saltwater #coralreeftank #reefaddict #eatsleepreef #reefpack #padi #reeflife #coralporn #adventure #voyage #vessel #boat

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Jun 1, 2019 at 2:09pm PDT