Saving Florida's coral reefs

CBS12 Investigates the trouble below and the effort to save Florida's reefs. (WPEC)

An underwater mystery is unfolding off our coast. Something is making coral sick.

A plunge into the blue waters off reveals a magnificent underwater world that's now under attack.

Bleached and diseased coral make up more than a hundred miles, up and down the coast of Florida's famous coral reef.

Marine Watch 12 took to the water to investigate and go below the surface to show you the problem. Underwater images paint the dire underwater dilemma that's baffling scientists. "Since 2015, we have documented significant loses of stony corals on our reefs," Nova Southeastern University Research Scientist David Gilliam said.

The cause of the underwater devastation is not yet known although Gilliam points to warmer waters, run-off, port dredging and beach nourishment projects as possible culprits.

State Representative Kristin Jacobs took the coral concern out of the water to Tallahassee and brought home $1 million to sample and study the waters from Martin County, down to Miami-Dade.

"The coral reefs represent so much to the health and safety and economics of our region,” she said.

“It's greatly appreciated, it’s fantastic a need was recognized, but it's not going to be enough to address the problem,” Gilliam said.

Jacobs says the state-dollars will be used to hopefully allow researchers to begin to understand what went wrong underwater and how it happened.

In the meantime, Gilliam and his team of researchers are taking matters into their own hands, growing coral in underwater nurseries. "We're very successful at growing these corals in the nursery then planting them on the reefs," Gilliam said,

It's only a patch, but these underwater nurseries will help to replace some of what's lost. "We can't grow enough corals to recover the reef. We have to improve the environment then let nature do what it's supposed to be doing," Gilliam said.

"I have confidence that we will learn the lessons that we need to and the environment that we're enjoying today will be here for many many others to come," Rep. Jacobs said.

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