Florida Keys

Florida’s reef system is damaged but not doomed, scientist says. He’ll soon dive the Keys to check

OceanX will study the Florida Keys’ reefs in June

The Alucia was in Costa Rica looking for lanternfish. While they proved elusive, they did see one of the accompanying phenomena—a superpod of spinner dolphins. Superpods like this one can run into the thousands.
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The Alucia was in Costa Rica looking for lanternfish. While they proved elusive, they did see one of the accompanying phenomena—a superpod of spinner dolphins. Superpods like this one can run into the thousands.

When it comes to Florida’s reef tract, Yale scientist Vincent Pieribone knows what’s been lost.

He grew up diving the reefs while a kid in Titusville, dove near Key Largo in the 1970s and now studies oceans.

“Our reefs were spectacular,” Pieribone said. “Now, it’s just a graveyard. What happens is the coral dies. Cuba has better reefs than Florida.”

In June, he will embark on a multimillion dollar study of the Florida Keys reefs, with the privately funded project by a research team called OceanX, which lays claim to being the first to sink into the deep ocean surrounding Antarctica and discovering a new species of shark while filming in the Galapagos.

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OceanX, on its vessel the Alucia, has studied oceans across the world and is about the take on a multimillion dollar study of the Florida Keys’ reef system. James DuBourdieu OceanX

From June 4 to June 20, the New York-based OceanX, which began about a year and a half ago, will launch a new mission, “Saving America’s Great Barrier Reef,” in the Keys, with plans to visit some 100 sites. It’s largely noninvasive work. The team will only collect data, water samples and extensive video footage.

“It’s a very aggressive schedule,” said Pieribone, vice chairman of OceanX and professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine. “We’re doing day and night diving.”

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The overall goal: to stir up public support for protecting the coral reefs system.

“It’s not the same,” Pieribone said. “The damage I see in the Florida Keys is a result of what we’ve done locally, not global warming. It starts in the Everglades.”

Pieribone did add that climate change is certainly a factor as well.

As bad as things are, including a killer coral disease plaguing the marine life, Pieribone remains optimistic that people can turn the tide for Florida’s reef.

“I’m not trying to be negative but you’ve lost,” he said. “You’re no longer on everybody’s top 10 list [for snorkeling and diving]. You can get that back. In my mind, it’s a national treasure.”

OceanX’s mission will conduct the most extensive assessment of the condition of the coral reefs within the Keys that’s ever been undertaken within the two weeks, said Andrew Bruckner, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Research Coordinator.

“This research provides critical, comprehensive information on the current status of stony coral tissue loss disease that can help Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary identify locations affected by disease outbreaks as well as sites that show high resilience to disease and other stressors and impacts,” Bruckner said in an email.

Those behind the mission, aboard OceanX’s marine research vessel Alucia, say it’s the most comprehensive real-time survey of the health of Florida’s reef system ever conducted — using the latest macro and micro biotechnology tools to perform a ‘vitals check’ on the coral reefs.

The Alucia has two manned subs that can make up to 3,280-foot-deep trips.

This project is a partnership with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institute of Oceanography. and Mote Marine Laboratory. People can follow the mission on OceanX’s social media channels, including Twitter and Facebook.

Funding comes from OceanX, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative, and the Moore Charitable Foundation.

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OceanX’s team will study the Florida Keys’ coral reef system in June 2019. Ian Kellett OceanX

“It’s all about cleaning up the water quality,” Pieribone said. “The house is still on fire. There are restoration plans. All that’s needed is to stop the pollution. You stand a decent chance for that stuff coming back.”

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