As we’ve reported here at Earth.com, coral bleaching events triggered by global warming have been wreaking havoc on reefs worldwide. When the water temperature rises, it causes coral to release algae from their inner tissue as a response to the environmental stress. But without the algae, the corals starve and die off. Coral bleaching has already killed 28% of shallow water coral in the Great Barrier Reef and now targets a new victim: the Florida Keys.
According to a new report from the Washington Post, coral decay caused by global warming poses a direct threat to the economy of the Florida Keys. This is because the local economy is based on tourism, diving, and fishing that require healthy and diverse coral reefs.
The Florida Keys themselves actually developed from an ancient coral archipelago and contain numerous marinas and seafood restaurants. Tourism, a key pillar in the local economy, is driven by diving and snorkelling activities based around the natural beauty of the surrounding coral reefs.
According to the report, 3.5 million tourists visit the Florida Keys each year. Tourism accounts for 54% of all jobs and contributes $2.7 billion to the local economy, according to Monroe County.
Damaged and decaying reefs are not only less of an attraction of divers, but also negatively impact marine life and biodiversity. The increase of algae in the water drives away fish populations, which in turn, negatively impacts the fishing industry and seafood restaurants.
Coral reefs in the area suffered traumatic bleaching events in 2014 and 2015, and scientists expect that by 2020, yearly bleaching events will be a regular occurrence.
Although the Keys have spent millions of dollars to protect the waters from pollution and human waste, the Washington Post feature points out that coral bleaching caused by global warming cannot be battled on a local level.
By Rory Arnold, Earth.com Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post