Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve will help raise awareness about the importance and the plight of Florida’s coral reefs with a day dedicated to the sea on July 15 for Coral Reef Awareness.
As reported by NOAA, Permit Reef, a coral reef off the Dry Tortugas, has seen a resurgence in marine life since becoming a protected site.
Photo courtesy of NOAA.
Florida knows its reefs. Boasting the largest reef system in North America, the only state in the continental United States with an extensive shallow coral reef formation near the coast, and one of the largest barrier reef systems in the world – the Florida Reef Tract – the state simply would not be the same without these underwater marvels. Nearly 70 percent of all marine life off our coasts spends at least some part of their lives on or around coral reefs, either seeking shelter, using it as grazing grounds, or a hunting range, while the structure itself acts as one of the last lines of defense against storm surge generated by hurricanes and other seaborne storms. The economic impact on the state reaches the billions annually – the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claims in 2001, “the artificial and natural reef systems of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties contributed $3.8 billion in sales to the local economy, as well as almost 60,000 jobs” in tourism dollars in just the counties alone – while the local fisheries rely on these underwater ecosystems to replenish dwindling stocks. But for all coral reefs do within the marine environment, their state has never been as precarious as they are today, bordering on ecosystem collapse in some parts of the state, while other global reef systems suffered total ecosystem collapse, decimating fish and other marine life populations in some areas while burdening others. And the news seems to gets worse by the day, though there is hope: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently released a 40 year study – “Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012” – that claims despite a more than 50 percent decline in coral reefs in the region since 1970, the restoration of parrotfish and other algae and seaweed munching species like sea urchins can help coral reefs rebound, and even be more resilient to climate change impacts.
To help raise awareness and celebrate these natural treasures, Rookery Bay will welcome guests for a discounted rate of buy one, get one free – that’s $5 a person for those counting at home. The Learning Center will focus its daily Coastal Connection program around coral reefs and its underwater inhabitants at both 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
For an even more in-depth, immersive experience with the fishy counterparts to the coral reef, Rookery Bay naturalists will lead a field-based program at the Rookery Bay Field Station on Shell Island Road. Dubbed Coastal Fish Biology and Identification: Backwater Bay, this hands-on program will take you into the estuary – often called the nurseries of the sea – to participate in a trawl of the water and sea grass beds, collecting fish and other estuarine animals, with educators discussing the species collected and their importance in the marine ecosystem along the way. The program begins at 9 a.m. with an hour-long classroom activity based on fish identification and biology, followed by two hours of boat-based instruction.
- Admission costs $15.
- The Coastal Fish Biology and Identification: Backwater Bay program runs from 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Space is limited to 25 people. To register, call 239-530-5940 or click here.
For more information about Coral Reef Awareness at Rookery Bay, visit rookerybay.org.