It’s almost spring, so hurricane season is right around the corner, and it turns out that what might be South Florida’s best defense against a storm is being created in a Tampa Bay lab. 7’s Kevin Ozebek went there for tonight’s 7 surveys.
They are the jewels of the ocean.
And once a year they put on a spectacular show as they create their next generation, but what you see isn’t happening deep below the surface.
Rachel Serafin, senior coral biologist at the Florida Aquarium: “We need to recreate all aspects of the ocean.”
Instead, these are images of rare South Florida corals spawning in reservoirs.
Rachel Serafin: “I never had a green thumb, but I did have a blue thumb!”
Thanks to the groundbreaking work done here, the corals of the Atlantic Ocean could be saved.
The third largest barrier reef in the world stretches from Port Saint Lucie to the Dry Tortugas.
But climate change and a mysterious coral disease have put the reef in jeopardy.
Rachel Serafin: “We have lost significant coral cover and population on our reefs, something like over 90% since the 80s.”
Now that Rachel can spawn corals in her lab, she breeds them by the thousands.
These rows of young corals will soon be transplanted here, inside Biscayne National Park to rebuild the reef.
Rachel Serafin: “We are going to need these corals. We’re going to need this reef to protect us from storm surges. We are going with bigger and bigger and more frequent weather events. We need these corals not only to resist them but also to help us.
This little coral destined for Biscayne Bay is only half an inch wide now, but once planted in the bay, if it thrives, in a few years it could be the size of a baseball.
After that, it could continue to grow bigger and bigger for potentially hundreds of years.
Liv Williamson, PhD student at the Rosenstiel School at the University of Miami: “If we had a healthy reef system there, it would break up some of that storm surge and minimize the impact.”
Williamson takes care of the corals, some of which were raised by Rachel.
When Liv isn’t working at UM’s aquaculture lab, she’s planting coral underwater off our coast.
Liv Williamson: “Without those corals, if it’s just a flat bottom, there’s nothing stopping those waves from moving in and destroying our coastal properties and causing erosion.”
Coral is so crucial to breaking waves that UM even uses this hurricane simulator to see how a reef minimizes the impact of a storm.
And later this year, Liv will be part of the UM team that will begin building and planting a reef off Miami Beach.
Liv Williamson: “I think we’re going to be able to keep the corals surviving in this area, but I think without this work we may not have any.”
So, thanks to these two scientists, we will always have these amazing creatures that give South Florida both beauty and barriers.
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