Disappearing Florida – Sea Life, from Turtles to Coral Reefs

Sea Life and Coral Sea Life and Coral[/caption]

Florida has the richest concentration of reptiles, sea turtles and other amphibians of any state. Sea turtles can live to be a 100 years old. However, they have a weakness. They lay their eggs – 50-200 at a time – in nests dug among beach dunes, far inland from the waters in which they spend most of their lives. Although they have few predators in the open waters, their nests are attractive feeding grounds for predatory beach residents. Beyond predation, the prime threat to their existence is habitat loss. Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission observes in their free Report, Wildlife 2060, that 18 million Florida residents live or work in coastal areas. The prediction is that the coastal population will reach 26 million by 2060.

Essentially, the Report states, we are “loving” our beaches to death.

With 27 of Florida’s 35 coastal counties offering nesting beach habitats to sea turtles, the future for them becomes bleak as human crowding, and with it commercial fishing nets, sea walls and beach dredging, continue to encroach their natural environment. The largest impact on sea turtle habitat is predicted for Collier, Flagler, Gulf, Okaloosa, St. Johns and St. Lucie counties. Little wonder the Green Sea Turtle has been on the endangered species list and the Loggerhead Turtle has been on the threatened list since 1978. Fortunately, according to the Fish & Wildlife Commission, 2010 has shown some improvement, particularly in Loggerhead turtles, which have been in steady decline for several years.

Beyond the loss of nesting habitat, within the seas themselves coral reefs are dying. Corals are living organisms, consisting of tiny, cup-shaped animals called “polyps.“ Corals have learned to colonize within the sea, in the form of reefs. Their colonies provide habitat for a wide variety of fish and other species.

”The Report indicates that by 2050 sixty percent of the world’s coral reefs are predicted to die, from a variety of stressors, such as coastal development, over-fishing, terrestrial pollution run-off and bleaching. Some 70%- to 80% of the shallow-water coral reefs worldwide have suffered bleaching, primarily from elevating water temperatures and CO2 omissions.

The Reefs at Risk report, issued initially in 1998 and updated in 2010, described the dire situation, and clearly identifies human activity as a prime threat to coral reefs.

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle

That’s too bad. Coral reefs are the most complex, species rich and productive of the marine ecosystems. Reefs are second only to the rain forests in their diversity of life. Reefs cover but two-tenths of one percent of the ocean’s area but are home to one-third of all our fish species, and thousands of other forms of marine life. The reefs are of interest to more than those of us who snorkel or take photos; coral reef fisheries produce about 25% of Gaia’s worldwide fish production. So the loss of the reef habitats results in more than a loss of beauty – the loss includes a valuable source of our food supply.

Some among us view the loss of nature’s habitat, whether it be beaches or coral reefs, as not much of a threat. We have technology on our side.

An interesting point of view is expressed by Doug Hoffman and Allen Simmons in their book, The Resilient Earth. These authors don’t disagree that we are experiencing climate change, but their view is that the cause is poorly understood and not necessarily dangerous. For example, increasing CO2 is really not bad, as it is a life force. Furthermore, mankind can’t control climate, and the earth has great recuperative powers and will adjust regardless as to what we do. Nature is a “tireless sculpture, and the Earth is an unfinished masterpiece.” As to the bleached coral reefs? On their blog page, Bleached Coral Reefs Bounce Back, the authors report that technology applied by “dedicated oceanographers and conservationists” are bringing some of the corals back to life. Technology, however, may not be working. Climate Progress reported in October 2010 that the Caribbean Coral Reef death is the worst ever. The report states:

“Abnormally warm water since June appears to have dealt a blow to shallow and deep-sea corals that is likely to top the devastation of 2005, when 80% of corals were bleached and 40% died in areas on the eastern side of the Caribbean.”

Similar reports came in from other parts of our globe. But why worry? We can always create more fish farms.

Time will tell who is right. But, in the meantime, the coral erosion continues and our sea life – and its beauty and our food supply – remain at risk.

From January 14, 2011 through March 13, 2011, the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, will have an important exhibition, Disappearing Florida. I will be privileged to be a participating photo-artist along with Carlton Ward, Jr., Kevin Boldenow, and Laurie Excell. Week-long photography courses will also be taught by Laurie Excell and Joel Sartore of the National Geographic Society, author of Rare, a book about disappearing species. Over the next several weeks, we will continue our look at Disappearing Florida. This is the fourth in the series.

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2 Comments on "Disappearing Florida – Sea Life, from Turtles to Coral Reefs"

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Love your site – keep up the good work

Fantastic article and I feel I should say I have to agree .