Category Archives: Coral

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.

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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.

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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.

Why I’m Suing the State of Florida & Governor Rick Scott

On Monday April 16th I sued Florida Governor Rick Scott and the State of Florida (click here to read the lawsuit) along with seven brave children from all over the state to demand that the promises made to us in the Florida Constitution and The Public Trust Doctrine be kept and that our Public Trust Resources including our atmosphere and waters be protected from man-made carbon dioxide pollution caused by fossil fuels. Here are some of the reasons why I feel that we have a moral obligation to try and change things before it’s too late and, therefore, why I’ve sued our State and Governor.

I am the fourth generation of my family to live in South Florida and was born here in Miami. I love the state of Florida and its incredible diversity including the vibrancy and natural beauty of Miami and Miami Beach, the serenity of places like Matheson Hammock, and natural wonders such as the Florida Keys, our state’s amazing coral reefs and, of course, the Everglades, the only habitat of its kind on earth.

But I am deeply worried about Florida’s future. The carbon dioxide that is being pumped into our atmosphere and oceans from petroleum products made from fossil fuels place parts of Florida that I cherish at the very real risk of disappearing.

Of becoming extinct.

Of being lost.


And those concerns, along with our State leaders total disregard for what is already happening, much less the threats that we face in the future, is part of the reason that I am suing our Governor and State of Florida.  Our climate change crisis is the biggest issue that my generation will ever face and it’s up to us, today’s children, to fix this problem. It is my hope that the court will rule to require that Florida enact and enforce laws to reduce and eliminate carbon emissions so that our state and citizens can have a future here.

I cherish my family home on No Name Key in the Florida Keys in Monroe County, an island that’s in the National Key Deer Refuge and the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. No Name Key is filled with amazing, magical, creatures like the tiny Key Deer who make their home there but in a County whose average elevation above sea level is less than 6 feet, I wonder and worry about whether the Florida Keys, and my home, the deer and their habitat will survive a future where seas are projected to rise between at least two and six feet, or more, unless we take action now.

But when I wrote to the State of Florida’s Department of Environmental Resources to ask what they are doing about our climate change crisis and my sea level rise concerns and our overall region their response upsets and scares me. Here’s what they wrote in response:

To Delaney Reynolds; 

Unfortunately the response to both of these questions is “Not much”. The Governor has not supported climate related legislation and as a result not much is getting done at the State level. 

Sr. Administrator / Department of Environmental Resources, 

State of Florida

That response, the state’s “not much” response, is unacceptable and is another reason why I am suing Governor Scott and the State of Florida.


This is me at 2 years of age at Matheson Hammock Beach. Unless we take action now, future generations will not be able to enjoy this special place like I did. 

And speaking of special places, Matheson Hammock is a wonderful public park that’s a short walk from my Miami home. It has an incredible path that winds its way through miles of mangrove forests as well as a marina and beach with a salt water swimming hole that overlooks downtown Miami and the ocean beyond. It’s a place that generations of South Floridians have enjoyed, a place where I learned to swim and where my father before me did too.

But it breaks my heart to see sea level rise covering the park’s paths, roads and beaches more each year and to know that someday soon, unless the State of Florida takes action to protect us, Matheson Hammock and places all over Florida like it will forever disappear. And that’s a tragedy that we cannot tolerate and yet another reason why I am suing the Governor and State.

Communities large and small all over Florida are already being forced to take action to address our climate crisis and when it comes to sea level rise, South Florida is literally ground zero for what’s happening here in the United States. Billions of dollars of real estate, as well as the tax revenue that goes with it is at risk.  Millions of people face the very real risk of being forced from our region and becoming climate change refugees. Much of our environment is literally at risk of extinction and yet our state’s political leaders avoid and deny the reality that our citizens increasingly face and leave it to locals to try and address this enormous issue. Examples include:

1. Miami Beach is spending nearly half a billion dollars to begin addressing the flooding from sea level rise that already consumes their community.

2. Last year City of Miami voters passed the Miami Forever Bond including $200 million towards sea level rise mitigation. Of course they did, flooding from seal rise has become a way of life here.

3. The City of South Miami passed a historic solar power law last year, the first of its type in Florida, a law that I proudly played a role in conceiving and helped to write, that requires residential solar power as a step to reduce carbon emissions.

4. Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties have banded together to create the South Florida Climate Change Compact because of the dire risks that our entire region faces.

In each of these cases concerned citizens and local leaders have come to realize that we must take action if South Florida is to have a chance to have a future. And yet, Florida’s Governor mocks us by denying that human caused climate change and sea level rise is an issue by saying that he has no view on these topics because, as he likes to say, he’s “not a scientist”.

Well, most of the people in our region are not scientists, but they do have eyes and can see that the water and temperature are rising, and that climate change is already affecting their ability to live a happy life here.  The science and facts related to human induced climate change and sea level rise are indisputable and you do not need to be a scientist to see this and, thus, another reason I am suing is to help those communities, and the people who live in them, all over Florida that are desperately fighting our climate crisis without help from the Governor or State of Florida.

And I am suing the State and Governor on behalf of those who can’t but will be highly impacted by this growing catastrophe including:

1. Our natural environment and the unique habitats and creatures that will be lost or displaced without action. Take, for example, a place that’s hidden from most people’s view, our underwater environment including the Florida Reef Track, a 360-mile-long ancient coral reef that runs from the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County to the Dry Tortugas National Park, West of the Florida Keys. It’s the third largest reef in the world and home to millions of marine animals but it IS at risk of extinction from ocean acidification caused by man-made carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.  Why would any of us allow that to happen?

2. Millions of people who face a future where they are at risk of becoming climate refuges unless we take action. People who will be forced to move from places they love and, in many cases, where their forefathers have lived for generations.

3. And people whose health will be severely impacted, especially the youngest and oldest in our society, as temperatures continue to climb.

4. And people too young to speak out today, as well as those not yet born but who have the undeniable right to enjoy a safe, clean, natural environment. A right that the State and our Governor are stealing from all of us by not taking action before it’s too late.

The good news is that there are solutions and the sooner we begin widely implementing them the better chance we have to save Florida and the less costly it will be to fix the problem. The bad news is that the State of Florida and our Governor have done little to nothing to begin solving the problem and that’s another reason why I am suing.

For example, experts predict that solar power can produce HALF of Florida’s energy needs by the time I’m 45 years or so old if our State would just become serious about sustainable energy and stop playing politics by protecting the established, polluting power companies.  My local power company in Miami, Florida Power & Light, has been in business for nearly 100 years in a place nicknamed ‘The Sunshine State” yet produces less than half of 1% of its power from solar. Now that makes NO sense.

For a Governor who likes to campaign for office by touting job creation it also makes no sense that he’s not embraced growing solar power for Florida. Experts predict that transitioning Florida to a renewable energy system would create over 300,000 good, well paying, long term jobs.

And, of course, let’s not forget that widely expanding solar power everywhere will save consumers a LOT of money while also helping save our environment.

So, while the Governor and State of Florida appear dedicated to the polluting ways of the past, I am hoping that our future will be filled with sustainable power and that The Sunshine State will become THE Solar State.

Allow me to end by sharing how much I enjoyed Ms. Hamann’s Civics & History class in 8th Grade.  Not only was she incredibly engaging, entertaining and nice, but I learned many important lessons from her about the three branches of our government:

1. The Executive branch where our Governor and his Cabinet are located,

2. The Legislative branch where Representatives and Senators serve,

3. And the Judicial branch where our state’s legal system operates to help protect us.

I am suing the State and our Governor because the Executive and Legislative branches have miserably failed to protect us and our environment from the climate change crisis. They have failed to honor their legal duties in the Florida Constitution and The Public Trust Doctrine by not protecting our Public Trust Resources and it is my hope that the Court will:

1. Affirm that our atmosphere is a Public Trust Resource,

2. Rule that the State has a fiduciary responsibility to protect our atmosphere, waters, land, marine resources, beaches and other Public Trust Resources from waste,

3. Affirm that the State has breached its responsibility to reduce Florida’s carbon emissions,

4. Rule that the State be forced to prepare and implement a remediation plan, and

5. Require the State to create the laws necessary to enact that plan so as to reduce Florida’s carbon emissions to safe levels that are based on scientific facts

As stewards of our state I believe that we have a moral obligation to solve our climate crisis and it is my hope that our legal system will help me draw a line in the sand so as to stop the damage and begin implementing solutions while Florida’s beaches still have sand on them.

Before it’s too late.

I want to end this blog post by congratulating my co-Plaintiffs, the seven children that are standing with me to fight our Governor and the State. Thanks to Levi, Isaac, Luxha, Andres, Oscar, Oliver and Valholly.  You are brave and passionate beyond words and I know that I speak for countless people when I say how grateful I am for your commitment and passion to helping me solve our climate change crisis.

I also want to end by thanking our exceptional legal team, our attorneys, as well as the incredible team at Our Children’s Trust for all your help.  On behalf of all the children, and the generations that will come after us, thanks to Guy Burns, Andrea Rodgers, Meg Ward, Caitlin Howard, Dick Jacobs, Mitchell Chester, Sandy D’Alemberte, Wally Pope, Jane West, Erin Deady, Deb Swim, and Matthew Schultz.

To learn more about the lawsuit and the organization helping Florida’s children seek justice, please visit Our Children’s Trust by clicking here or Youth V. Gov by clicking here.

Coral Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

The following article first appeared on the Research Blog for Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s Shark Research and Conservation (SRC) Lab website at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. To learn more about SRC, visit here:, or to learn more about the University’s marine science school, please click here:

By Delaney Reynolds, SRC intern

Coral reefs are some of planet earth’s most spectacular, diverse and important ecosystems. Our planet’s coral reefs provide important shelter, habitats, and a source of food for many different species of marine organisms. They also act as a critical food source to humans, as well a natural barrier to help protect our coastlines from hurricanes and associated storm surges. Sadly, coral reefs face growing risks including the possibility of extinction from a variety of stresses that leads to coral bleaching.

Coral Bleaching

Figure 1: Coral from which the zooxanthellae has been expelled, causing it to turn white (Image Source:

Coral bleaching is the process in which zooxanthellae, algae living symbiotically within the coral, are expelled from coral colonies due to a number of factors including an increase in temperature, decrease in pH, exposure to UV radiation, reduced salinity, and bacterial infections. Zooxanthellae provide the coral 30% of its nitrogen and 91% of its carbon needs to the coral host in exchange for a shelter, as well as waste produced by the coral from nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon dioxide that is required for the algae’s growth (Baird, 2002).

When corals bleach, it effects entire marine communities due to their immense diversity. Fish populations that reside around coral reefs “are the most species dense vertebrate communities on earth, contributing critical ecosystem functions and providing crucial ecosystem services to human societies in tropical countries” (Graham, 2008). Researchers have found that when an ecosystem endures physical coral loss, fish species richness is extremely likely to decline due to their heavy reliance on the coral colony itself (Graham, 2008).

Perhaps the most famous current example of coral bleaching is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Scientists have determined that the main cause of Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching is induced thermal stress and that about 90% of the reef has been bleached since 1998 (Baird, 2002). As the corals bleach and temperatures increase, researchers have determined that shark and ray species that live in the area may be vulnerable to these climactic changes.

Exposure of Ecological Groups of GBR Sharks and Rays to Climate Change Factors

Figure 2: Exposure of Ecological Groups of GBR Sharks and Rays to Climate Change Factors. This figure displays the vulnerability different elasmobranch species face due to climate change, as well as the specific effects of climate change that they are vulnerable to, in the specific zones of the Great Barrier Reef. (Image Source: Chin et al. 2010)

Most of the Great Barrier Reef is located on the mid-shelf of the ocean floor, the approximate mid-point between the shallower coast of Australia and the continental shelf where the ocean bottom significantly drops in depth. Researchers found that the mid-shelf is the area where most of the shark species studied reside, while most rays dwell in coastal waters or closer to the continental shelf. It was also found that both areas are the susceptible to rising temperature, increased storm frequency and intensity, increasing acidity, current alterations, and freshwater runoff, all being caused by climate change (Chin, 2010). Based on these findings, researchers have concluded that the areas these elasmobranchs live in should be protected and preserved. Species in these highly vulnerable areas should also be monitored and considered for future conservation actions, as many of the shark species are already experiencing the effects of climate change from some of the aforementioned factors.

Typically, sharks are considered some of the strongest animals on earth, and while they have lived on earth for at least 420 million years, they are slow to adapt. This slowness has impeded their ability to survive in our rapidly changing climate. In the near future it will be common to see some species of marine organisms demonstrate plasticity, the ability to adapt to their changing environment, but other species, such as elasmobranchs, are expected to simply distribute to other habitats in search of cooler waters. Even though sharks are a highly vulnerable species to climate change, they sit at the top of the trophic level in many different niches and, thus, wherever they migrate to, it will be easier for them to find food than it would be for other species such as fish or rays. However, this is most likely only the case for adult sharks as embryos and juvenile sharks may be more vulnerable to increased temperatures. For instance, researchers found that the survival of bamboo shark embryos decreased from 100% at current temperatures to 80% under future ocean temperature scenarios and that the embryonic period was also shortened, not allowing the embryo enough time to develop fully (Rosa, 2014).

To decrease the effects of climate change on coral bleaching, corrective and mitigation measures can be taken. By utilizing green energy sources such as implementing solar power or wind power, walking or biking, and driving electric cars, we can reduce our use of fossil fuels and carbon footprint, thus decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide polluting and warming our atmosphere and oceans. While underwater and not always visible, coral reefs are truly a vital part of our ecosystem and need to be cherished and protected for generations to come.


Baird, A. H., & Marshall, P. A. (2002, July 18). Mortality, growth and reproduction in scleractinian corals following bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Retrieved from

Chin, A., Kyne, P. M., Walker, T. I. and McAuley, R. B. (2010), An integrated risk assessment for climate change: analyzing the vulnerability of sharks and rays on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Global Change Biology, 16: 1936–1953. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2009.02128.x

Graham, N. A., McClanahan, T. R., MacNeil, M. A., Wilson, S. K., Polunin, N. V., Jennings, S., . . . Sheppard, C. R. (2008, August 27). Climate Warming, Marine Protected Areas and the Ocean-Scale Integrity of Coral Reef Ecosystems. Retrieved from

Rosa, R., Baptista, M., Lopes, V. M., Pegado, M. R., Paula, J. R., Trubenbach, K., . . . Repolho, T. (2014, August 13). Early-life exposure to climate change impairs tropical shark survival. Retrieved November 2, 2017, from