Something is turning healthy coral into ghostly skeletons along the Florida Reef Tract. As the third-largest barrier reef in the world, the 360-mile stretch of vitally important sea life provides a buffet of nutrients for plants and animals along the state's Atlantic coast. Now, scientists are racing to find a cure, as detailed in a piece by NPR. To be sure, reefs are struggling worldwide, and coral diseases have been rising over the last decade, per NOAA, probably caused by pollution and rising ocean temperatures, which provide a warm home for pathogens. But growing swathes of coral from as far north as Pompano Beach in Broward County to as far south as Biscayne National Park are turning into watery graveyards, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says in a report.
Since 2015 the department has been working with a team of federal, state, and local groups to identify the likely pathogen, find a treatment, and address underlying problems—but that identification hasn't yet happened. Scientist William Precht, who was hired by the state to monitor the health of reefs off the port of Miami, has watched the disease move from one patch of coral to another. He says that whatever is killing the coral is especially deadly for brain and star coral, which create the underlying structure for many reefs. The death of the coral, he tells NPR, is having a lasting impact. "When you go out and swim on the reefs of Miami-Dade County today, it would be a very rare chance encounter that you'd see some of these three or four species." (There's bad news about the Great Barrier Reef, too.)