Coral Bleaching and Disease Affect Broward Reefs


September 19, 2003, Fort Lauderdale, Fl.  New outbreaks of coral bleaching and disease, affecting a major Florida coral reef, are currently underway in the waters off Broward County. The surveys, conducted by Cry of the Water and Global Coral Reef Alliance, evaluated the health of over 450 coral colonies in two separate areas. The reefs in question are some of the best near shore coral reefs left in North America.

 The 9/14/2003 studies found 61.5% of all branching Staghorn coral colonies were adversely affected by white band diseases (range 55% to 68%), and 48% of all massive corals were bleached (range 39% to 57%). High water temperatures (85 degrees F) are the likely cause of bleaching.

 In addition to several other coral diseases, the researchers report that Broward County reefs are overgrown by the slimy cyano-bacterial mats typically found around sewage outfalls in South Florida. This algae growth appears to be expanding.

 Broward reefs are known to have the largest living stands of the once common Staghorn coral remaining in the Caribbean region as well as the highest density of ancient corals in North America. These reefs in front of Fort Lauderdale are the only reefs in the continental United States that can be easily reached by swimmers from shore. 

Unfortunately, these reefs have never been officially designated as a coral reef habitat and are legally unprotected and threatened with imminent extinction from an unwise and short-sighted plan by Broward County to dump-fill the adjacent beach with dredged sand.  

The plan, approved by Governor Bush and the Florida Cabinet, is due to start immediately after impact assessments on corals at beach dredge-dump projects in Hollywood and Dania are completed. These reefs have already been largely killed by mud and sand from repeated previous beach dredge-filling and are not comparable to the still healthy reefs in front of Fort Lauderdale. The latter reefs are close to shore and protect the beach and protect the beach from erosion.

Recent surveys show that the Broward County reefs are threatened by climate change, diseases, and water quality deterioration, as well as from physical damage.  

We call for immediate monitoring of these Fort Lauderdale reefs for impacts due to increasing temperature, diseases, water pollution (including nutrients and bacteria), and turbidity. In addition, we suggest development of an emergency management plan to protect this last ancient reef, a priceless national treasure, from being killed by mud and sand dumping. We also call on all responsible federal, state, county, and municipal authorities to preserve these reefs for future generations.

For more information please see Broward County Reefs Threatened by Dredging:

Dan Clark, President
Cry of the Water
P.O. Box 8143
Coral Springs, FL  33075
Tom Goreau, President
Global Coral Reef Alliance
37 Pleasant Street
Cambridge, MA 02139