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One Florida coral sanctuary is fighting the good fight against a bacterial disease that is rapidly affecting Florida coast’s vibrant, prickly, and brain-looking coral reef ecosystem.
The Florida Coral Rescue Center in Orlando is dedicated to understanding, studying, and revitalizing Florida’s declining coral reef population out of an enigmatic location near Orange Blossom Trail on the south side of Orlando.
Here, scientists and coral reef experts work together to repopulate the affected reefs that line and protect endangered wildlife and the coast. The Florida Coral Rescue Center is home to the nation’s largest rescued coral safe haven—holding over 750 coral colony pieces.
The coral housed in this sanctuary comes from live reefs in the Florida Keys and is currently being threatened by a bacterial disease in the Caribbean waters.
Around the clock, attention is at the forefront of this ecosystem-saving operation. Biologists closely monitor and feed the live plants in specially housed shallow water tanks to best understand how to protect, preserve, and grow the damaged population successfully.
“We spared no expense as far as the security of the corals, the monitoring of the corals, and the overall safety. We know how precious these animals are,” said Jim Kinsler, SeaWorld Orlando’s Curator of Aquariums and manager of the Florida Coral Rescue Center via the Orlando Sentinel.
The Florida Keys coral reef barrier is one of the largest in the world, covering over 220 miles from the state’s southeast coast in Key Biscayne to the Dry Tortugas. A large portion of the reef is protected by John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, the first park of its kind in North America.
Much of the responsibility to revive the population and find a solution to thwart the crippling coral enemy lies within the walls of the sanctuary. The effort is being led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The highly contagious and infectious disease in question is known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. Scientists believe the bacteria target the stomachs of a coral species and can collapse an entire coral colony within weeks. Almost 80 percent of infected coral populations fail to survive.
Scientists have rapidly begun to rescue coral in the area because of a wave that currently lies within miles of the last unharmed reef near the Dry Tortugas. The disease has been monitored since 2014 and has affected an estimated 95 percent of all state reefs as far north as Breakers Reef in the Palm Beach region.
Coral reefs play a vital role in the ocean ecosystem by protecting endangered species, providing necessary nutrients for local wildlife, and protecting state shorelines.
At the sanctuary, scientists are hard at work to find out which genetics within the coral can resist and outlive the disease. With special diets at dawn, perfectly calculated 77 degrees, pH balanced, and nutrient-rich saline waters, these organisms must be protected at all costs if Florida’s coastline wants to survive.
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Melissa’s career in writing started more than 20 years ago. Today, she lives in South Florida with her husband and two boys.