Author Archives: DReynolds

A Coastal Catastrophe

Although the year is only slightly more than half over many of my colleagues in the scientific community are already predicting that there’s a good chance that 2023 may become the hottest year in Earth’s history. Record breaking high temperatures and the duration of that heat has rightfully alarmed people, while also damaging environments all over the planet. And nowhere should those alarms be louder than right here in Florida where we are amidst what could very well be a coastal catastrophe caused by that heat. Heat, I dare say, that is largely fueled by man-kind’s use of fossil fuels.

Miami, where I principally live, experienced over three weeks in a row of Excessive Heat Warnings from the National Weather Service last month (July 2023). The prior record for such warnings were three days. In fact, for 46 scorching hot days (June 11 to July 27) this summer, Miami sizzled under heat index temperatures that topped 100 degrees every afternoon. That broke the prior record (from 2020) of 32 days in a row above 100 degrees. A heavy rainstorm on July 28th ended the streak by producing a downright cool 98-degree day. During those 46 days Miami set 10 daily temperature records, 27 daily heat index records, received its first-ever excessive heat warnings from the National Weather Service, and was subject to 23 days of heat advisories. What did the rest of the planet do during that time frame this summer? Well, it set a new all-time temperature record and then broke it three times.

“This isn’t just Miami in July heat. Miami isn’t just breaking its record heat index values — we’re absolutely obliterating the previous records on a daily basis. Miami is well on its way to recording the hottest year meteorologists have seen in 130 years of keeping weather records. Thanks to climate change, this summer is likely a preview of summers to come.”

NBC 6 Hurricane Specialist, Meteorologist,  John Morales

My friend and fellow CLEO Institute Board Member, NBC 6 Hurricane Specialist John Morales, was widely quoted in recent days as explaining, “This isn’t just Miami in July heat. Miami isn’t just breaking its record heat index values — we’re absolutely obliterating the previous records on a daily basis.” John went on to say that “Miami is well on its way to recording the hottest year meteorologists have seen in 130 years of keeping weather records. Thanks to climate change, this summer is likely a preview of summers to come. This summer should repeat with much greater ease here in South Florida because of the trend of hotter temperatures all around the planet, which is undeniable, and undeniably linked to mankind and our continued burning of fossil fuels”. John, I could not agree (nor thank you for your sensible analysis) more.

As I write this post I am home here on No Name Key in the Florida Keys after a summer of travel to many of America’s iconic western National Parks (you can read a bit about that trip here). Florida, where I live, is a peninsula with 1,350 miles of mainland coastline abutting the Atlantic ocean to our east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west with the waters of Florida Bay to the South. The Florida Keys is a magical chain of about 1,700 islands running from the southern “tip” of Florida’s mainland where Miami, Naples, and the Everglades National Park are located to the west through the Gulf and Ocean waters before culminating in the Dry Tortugas National Park. Needless to say, most of mainland Florida and all of the Florida Keys are surrounded by water and it’s in those coastal waters that the catastrophe I write about today is brewing.

In its July 2023 Marine Heatwave (MHW) discussion post, the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that in 2023 44% of the global ocean is experiencing a Marine Heatwave. That percentage, 44%, ranks first since such conditions began being measured in 1991. NOAA expects that this figure will grow in the months ahead and that approximately 50% of Earth’s oceans will experience a Marine Heat Wave in September-October of this year. Here’s the MHW data from 1991 when records were first kept through last month (notice that as time passes the temperatures have increased?):


Now closer to home, consider Manatee Bay, a shallow basin just off the southern tip of mainland Florida near Everglades National Park, where a temperature of 100.2 degrees was recorded one night last week only to be followed by a temperature of 101.2 degrees the very next day. In 2010 the temperature there hit triple digits (100 degrees) for the first time and then in 2017 set a record at 102 degrees so last week’s 101.2 reading appears to continue a trend that portrays triple digit temperatures taking place more often. Here are the historic water temperatures from 2004 through last week, 2023 in Manatee Bay.

image002 (1)

But it’s not just Manatee Bay that’s boiling. It’s all the waters around South Florida including the Florida Keys. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  typical water temperatures for the region this time of year should be between 73 degrees and 88 degrees (23 and 31 degrees Celsius), yet they have been averaging about 91 degrees (33 Celsius) in recent weeks, thus much higher than the normal mid-July average of 85 degrees. NOAA and its partner Coral Reef Watch have prepared this excellent graph which displays that sea surface temperatures in the Florida Keys have been well above average for much of 2023:


And it’s not just in Florida that sea temperatures have increased, but this is happening all over the world. Travel up the eastern coast, for example, to Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, places I visited in 2019 as part of a geology expedition, and you will find sea temperatures that are 9 to 11 degrees hotter than is historically normal. One or two degrees would be alarming but 9, 10, 11 degrees portrays a catastrophe. Perhaps of even greater concern is that the worst might be ahead of us in August or September when water temperatures typically peak. In fact, NOAA’s experimental Ocean Heat Wave Forecast tool that I shared earlier in this post now suggests that there is a 70-100% chance that the extreme heat in the North Atlantic will continue through September or even October. And, as noted above, NOAA believes that 50% of Earth’s oceans will experience a Marine Heat Wave in September / October of this year.

So what’s the big deal with a warmer ocean? Well, aside from the dire impact warmer water has by increasing the melting rate of glaciers which, in turn, causes seas to rise, such temperatures also harm animals within the water and can damage or destroy habitats forever. Warmer water houses less oxygen and that can lead to mass fish kills. It can also kill sea grass, especially in shallow beds such as those that are prevalent here in the Florida Keys, that many species rely upon for food and shelter. And warmer water can help algae grow more quickly which, in turn, can lead to algal blooms that cause added environmental damage.

And speaking of the threat to animals, coral for example, is a living, breathing organism that is vital to our marine environment, protecting the mainland, and to our economy. Florida’s coral reefs annually produce billions of dollars in economic benefit from tourism and fishing. They are a vital natural buffer from hurricanes. They are also, of course, habitat for countless marine life on which our ecosystem depends. They are, in short, a critical natural resource and yet, like so much of our natural environment, they are at dire risk of extinction because of mankind’s love affair with fossil fuels and the resulting warming temperatures from those fuel emissions pouring into our atmosphere and oceans.

Coral Bleaching

You see, algae lives (or tries to, temperature permitting) inside the coral and provides coral its color and food. Coral is, however, highly susceptible to higher temperatures which, when present, can lead to what is called bleaching, which is what happens when coral expels the algae due to higher temperatures than the coral can tolerate. It’s a bit like throwing a blanket off yourself in the middle of a warm summer night’s sleep to try and cool down. When coral expels its algae to cool itself, it’s also throwing its food away and, thus, can starve.

Depending on the amount of heat and its duration, some corals can recover from brief bleaching events but as waters increasingly warm and last longer these events can kill the coral. The stark white coral in the picture above and the one below are examples of what bleached coral looks like.


Coral Bleaching 2

Up until about 40 years ago bleaching was rarely observed but as our water temperatures have continued to rise from climate change it has become more and more prevalent in recent decades. Certainly what we are seeing this year, both in the temperature and how early bleaching is taking place, is the earliest since satellite records began being used in 1985. Perhaps worse yet is that the warmer waters we would normally expect in August or September appear to be arriving earlier and earlier each year. Higher temperatures combined with longer durations of those higher temperatures are catastrophic for coral. The chart below, also from NOAA / Coral Reef Watch, illustrates stress on coral based both on record high temperatures and setting a record for how early the warming took place.


And what do I see here in the waters off No Name? A lot of dead and dying coral struggling for survival. And snorkeling in the shallow waters around the island in recent weeks is akin to stepping into a hot tub.

“What we found was unimaginable – 100% coral mortality.”

Sadly, others in the region are sharing similarly grave news.

image001 (1)

Consider Sombrero Reef, off of Marathon Key just to my east above the Seven Mile Bridge, where the folks from the Coral Restoration Foundation visited their decade old coral restoration site last week and reported the following: “What we found was unimaginable – 100% coral mortality.” Or consider their coral nursery at Looe Key here in the Lower Keys, a favorite dive spot of mine over the years that’s just a short boat ride from No Name, where the Foundation sadly now reports “We have also lost almost all the corals.”

The news, what with warming oceans and warming lasting longer and longer, is not (to say the least) good. That said, and as dire as this situation is, allow me to end with some positive news… at least as positive as is possible given the threat our coral reefs are facing.

First, if our society will only ever take these threats seriously and quickly transition from using fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, we can very likely overcome the current threat to coral from increased temperatures. But we need to act quickly and demand that our political “leaders” set aside the polluting politics of the past and demand change right NOW. If you are worried about what’s happening and want to play a role in fixing the problem please contact your state and federal representatives and demand action by eliminating fossil fuel use.

Secondly, I am deeply proud to report that scientists, environmentalists, and many other concerned citizens have sprung into action (and into the water) in recent weeks to save as much juvenile coral as possible by moving it into climate-controlled labs or into deeper, cooler water. As rising temperatures threaten our coral populations, a variety of amazing stakeholders including our government, universities, and non-profits have been growing new coral and planting them all along our coast to attempt to replenish dead and dying coral. To save that coral, countless folks are in the water right now trying to protect those “babies” by working literally around the clock as I type these words, as well as working to find ways to temporarily protect as many established reef sites as possible.

If we are to ever save our incredible coral reefs here in South Florida, we will most certainly have science and scientists to thank, so please join me with a HUGE Shout Out to everyone who is in the water and their labs right now trying to avert this brewing coastal catastrophe.

Summer 2023: America’s Amazing National Parks

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.”
John Muir, Father of National Parks

Following the end of an incredibly hectic and rewarding school year, I’ve spent much of the summer of 2023 on a truly epic road trip in western North America that allowed me to visit 20 of America’s most special natural resources, including 15 of our National Parks. Along the way I was humbled to see breathtakingly beautiful nature that often brought tears to my eyes, met many incredible people, and made countess memories that I will keep in my heart and mind for the rest of my life.

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, one of my life’s bucket list items is to experience each of America’s 63 National Parks. As of today, I’ve visited 25 and that now includes this summer’s stops: Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite, Pinnacles, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Joshua Tree National Parks. While visiting those parks I also was able to enjoy several other special, protected places this summer including Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, and the Mohave Desert National Preserve.

ACA2B950-53A9-44C0-AC5C-C602F8116751 848B3806-1DCD-472A-B8DA-19CE240EB5E0 IMG_3421
309D846F-A7FC-4E15-A833-15AF21A54CCD B179BD32-6670-4DC0-9A72-9E48D64507A4 573DF984-D380-4A63-B434-2BD612D702FE

Although I often had little to no internet connection for much of my trip given the remote nature of many of the places I visited, my camera was always at my side so rather than trying to explain what I saw in words allow me to show you a few of the amazing highlights:

DSCN3191 DSCN3420 copy DSCN3591 copy
DSCN3835 copy DSCN3881 copy DSCN4339 copy DSCN4507 copy
DSCN4735 copy DSCN5119 copy DSCN5667 copy
DSCN5868 copy DSCN6004 copy DSCN6175 copy DSCN5083 copy

Favorite places and memories? Well, truthfully there really are far too many to list but a couple of highlights would include a magical meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park filled with birds all around me as I hiked along a rushing river as a violent thunder storm quickly approached; hiking 25 miles in Yosemite amidst so many massive and majestic waterfalls; snow banks everywhere for half of the trip despite it being June; rafting on the Snake River in Grand Teton with eagles watching us drift by; seeing so many black and grizzly bears including “meeting” one of the most famous of them all, “399”, and her new cub who followed her through a meadow on its hind legs late one afternoon (you can check out 399’s instagram… Yes, she has her own page, here); mountain biking through an alpine forest in Yellowstone National Park; hiking Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park; the fact that redwoods are so tall they seem to touch the clouds; everything about Point Reyes National Seashore (ditto for Grand Teton National Park); the cobalt blue water of Crater Lake that sits atop a snow covered volcanic mountain; the heat in Death Valley (102 degrees) and being 282 feet below sea level while there; countless stars sprayed across a pitch black sky at Joshua Tree; and being so fortunate to be with my family amidst such incredible nature.


With summer about to end and the new school year fast approaching I do hope you will take time to get outside and experience nature. There is much work to be done, more than ever, to protect our natural environment but here’s to hoping you can get outside to your local park, a state forest, beach, lake, nearby national park, or somewhere else special before the new school year begins.

March Madness 2023


Every March sports fans all over America and beyond go “mad” for the college basketball tournament that culminates by crowning the best men and women’s team as champion. The tournaments, collectively referred to as “March Madness,” are always filled with surprises, upsets and stories of triumph that go well beyond the games themselves. This year was no different and included an extraordinary, record setting run by both the men and women’s teams here at my beloved University of Miami where I am a graduate student and before that earned my undergrad degree.

Our men’s team culminated a historic season by making the Final Four for the first time in school history before being defeated by the eventual National Champion, the University of Connecticut. The ladies’ team – led by my long-time friend, middle and high school summer camp coach, and incredible inspiration, Coach Katie Meier – made history by reaching the Elite Eight for the first time in school history before being defeated by the eventual ladies’ National Champion, Louisiana State University. Congrats to everyone at the U and especially to the team, coaches, administrators, and fans that cheered the Canes on to these lofty heights for the first time in our history (It’s Great to be a Miami Hurricane as we say around these parts).

And speaking of March Madness, can you imagine just how difficult it must be to manage school while playing Division I college sports and the rest of one’s life as is the case for each member of these teams? The long hours every day, hard work, dedication, and countless sacrifices certainly led to fantastic (record setting even) success and resonate with me because those have long been foundational traits that I’ve tried to embrace in my own work. And while at 5’2” tall and after two knee operations (from playing basketball no less), my days of playing competitive hoops are over. But, I’d like to share a bit about my own March Madness this year as I worked to balance school and all else during what’s been an awfully busy month for The Sink or Swim Project and my own environmental endeavors. In addition to my studies (I am currently finishing my second year of law school and the first year of my Ph.D. studies), the madness in recent weeks has included:


Thanks to the folks at BLUE Missions ( for having me give a presentation to their Building Young Leaders student group. The students participate in a three-month impact leadership training to learn how to create positive changes in their communities and I was honored to share a bit about my work, as well as my concerns related to our climate crisis and how young people all over the globe must solve this problem during our lifetimes. In addition to my lecture I also participated in a photoshoot that BLUE Missions plans to use for their Young Leaders campaign that is being promoted in local schools so that students can see what members of our communities are doing to fight environmental issues. And later in the month I was honored to also record a discussion with BLUE Missions for their upcoming Climate Cure Podcast so please stay tuned for news about its release!

Thanks again to Danny, Leslie, Nicole, Tayler, Ashley, and the entire BLUE Missions team, as well as their dedicated group of young student leaders.

IMG_9993 IMG_9995 IMG_9990
IMG_0025 IMG_0009 IMG_0002

For the second year in a row the esteemed Aspen Institute held its climate crisis symposium (Aspen Ideas: Climate 2023) right here in Miami-Dade County. I was pleased to attend plenaries and panel discussions addressing mitigation and adaptation efforts, sea level rise and flooding solutions, renewable energy technologies, food and agricultural impacts, and more. I was especially excited to attend the “Come Hell or High-Water” panel moderated by one of my professors from the University of Miami, Dr. Katharine Mach, discussing managed retreat and climate gentrification.

The symposium was packed with climate and sustainability leaders from all over the world including Colette Pichon Battle, Nadege Green, Susan Crawford, and Jake Bittle to name just a few from the day I was able to attend. The day ended with a fantastic plenary that included Ali Zaidi, White House climate czar; Dan Gelber, Mayor of the City of Miami Beach; Pat Gruber, CEO of Gevo, a company creating low-carbon jet fuel and gasoline; Amy Knowles, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Miami Beach; Michael Green, Founder and Principal of Michael Green Architecture, a leader in sustainable wood construction and innovation; and, yes, THE Bill Nye “the science guy” (Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill!).

Allow me to also share that in order to attend this year’s event I had to not only plan ahead for my schoolwork but leave the symposium site on Miami Beach that day to attend my “Environmental Planning and the Environmental Impact Statement” class on the University of Miami’s Key Biscayne Campus (The Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science) before darting back to the symposium for its afternoon and evening events. To say I was exhausted (the symposium started at 9:00 AM and took an hour’s drive in traffic to get to) by the end of the day is an understatement but it was time well spent even if it made for a tiring few days.


As I was leaving the Aspen conference near 10:00 PM that night and checked my email for one last time that day, I was pleasantly surprised to find an invitation from the White House to greet Vice President Harris the very next day here in Miami where she was scheduled to be Aspen Ideas conference’s closing Keynote speaker. Talk about March Madness!

Needless to say, I immediately accepted the invitation. I was and remain honored by the invitation and to be able to spend a short time with Vice President Harris and her staff. I am deeply grateful to her and the President for their climate-related work, including the Inflation Reduction Act, while also understanding that much work to be done (shutting down the Willow Project would be a good next step!). Thanks to Miami-Dade County Mayor Levine Cava and her team for suggesting me as one of the people to meet the Vice President and to the Vice President’s team for making me feel so welcome.

IMG_0139 IMG_3129 2ceaadb2-8c4a-4946-a1b3-ed06b1f8c082
IMG_0172 IMG_0226

My time with the Vice President took place at Miami International Airport where her plane, known as Air Force II, landed right in front of where I waited to meet her. No sooner than that event was over I boarded an evening flight to Sarasota, Florida where I spent the next two days conducting shark research with Mote Marine Laboratory and Dr. Demian Chapman, a world-renowned shark scientist, at the invitation of Leisha John and Greg Hamra, and the folks at Earthwatch (

During my time at Mote, I was able to assist with experiments testing the sensitivity of different shark species’ ampullae of lorenzini (electroreceptive pores on the front of sharks’ snouts that detect electric fields) to magnetism, as well as spend time out on the water on the boat shark tagging. As you can see in the pic above, we caught a beautiful eight-foot bull shark and collected data from her that will contribute to genetic, population, and tracking research projects. As I’ve mentioned many times in various blogs, I love sharks, and so getting to conduct research with Dr. Chapman at the laboratory founded by Eugenie Clark, founder of Mote and a pioneer for women in shark science and STEM fields in general, was a dream come true.

Thanks again to Leisha and Greg for the invite and to the Board of Directors for your hospitality, as well as wonderful work over the years.


And finally allow me to share that nearer the end of the month I proudly participated in a World Water Day panel discussion hosted by BLUE Missions at Bay 13 Brewery with Daniel Rodriguez, President of BLUE Missions; Keely Weyker, Director of Engagement and Outreach for The Everglades Foundation; Erin Cover, Education and Outreach Manager for Miami Waterkeeper; and Matt Anderson, Assistant Director of Mobility and Sustainability for The City of Coral Gables Office of Sustainability. We talked about a range of topics including water quality issues, salt water encroachment, the threat that the Everglades National Park faces, and more.

Over the past two years of my law and Ph.D. related studies there were occasions when juggling all my work, between school and The Sink or Swim Project, were, candidly, challenging. I know that a lot of my followers, whether students or working professionals, grapple with these same challenges between your day-to-day responsibilities in school and/or work and wanting to help protect our precious environment or play a meaningful role in whatever cause(s) inspires you.

I get it.

Choices and what are often hard personal sacrifices are certainly required, but at the end of the day (and by the end of our lives), is there anything more important than being able to help make things better? I hope that sharing a bit about my own “March Madness” proves in some small way that it’s certainly possible to balance all of your priorities, even the occasional surprise, and that the next time you’re invited to a rally, government meeting, or some other event where your view and voice can make a positive difference you will consider that, if I can manage all of these types of things, then you can too.

1 2 3 4 5 61