Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

The recent offshore British Petroleum oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico poses a serious threat to the delicate coral reef ecosystems and associated coastal habitats lining South Florida and the Keys. The advancing oil plume, along with the use of equally toxic oil dispersants used during cleanup efforts, threatens to unleash further stress on an already taxed marine ecosystem left fragile from years of human encroachment.

The Gulf of Mexico is ecologically rich, yet suffers from local threats such as fishing pressures, agricultural run-off, and coastal development. These local threats are known to weaken coral reef ecosystems, making them more susceptible to environmental stress. Studies have shown that resilient reefs — reef systems where locally derived threats are measurably reduced — are better able to combat global environmental threats, such as climate change.

“Well-managed marine protected areas, as can be found in some areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, reduce local threats to reefs and increase their resistance to warming ocean temperatures,” said Brian Huse, Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance.  “The threat posed by the oil spill has the potential to wipe out decades of hard work.”

The oil spill’s potential impact on South Florida’s coral reefs will stretch far beyond the reefs themselves. Florida depends on these natural structures for coastal storm protection, sustainable food sources, and the income and employment generated from healthy fisheries and sustainable tourism. A significant portion of Florida’s $5.5 billion economy is attributable to its reefs and, globally, coral reefs add roughly $400 billion to the economy annually.

“By not investing in sustainable solutions to meet our energy needs, we are making an affirmative choice to put at risk not only our environment, but the health and economic interests of future generations,” said Huse. “We cannot continue to endanger this already fragile ecosystem with these types of extractive practices.”


About The Coral Reef Alliance

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) unites communities to save coral reefs. We provide tools, education, and inspiration to residents of coral reef destinations to support local projects that benefit both reefs and people. Originally founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community for conservation, CORAL has grown from a small, grassroots alliance into the only international nonprofit organization that works exclusively to protect our planet’s coral reefs. Visit www.coral.org or call1-888-CORAL-REEF.

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3 Responses

  1. Maria Miranda Maloney

    Hi. After reading this, I just wanted to share a poem with you in reference to the Gulf oil spill. I was there this summer, and saw first hand the clean-up crews & close-off beaches of Pensacola. Sadly, the beach sand was tarnish with oil and tar balls. It was a tragic beauty that surrounded the entire place. I came home and wrote this:

    Tourists After the Oil Spill

    We arrive in the break
    of light, in the high tide of emerald
    waves ballooning, splintering against the shore
    Here the sand is refined sugar
    The sky a tacit blue
    Curling our bare feet in sand despite
    the no swimming warning, we pick
    sea shells sticky, sea weed flaccid
    and blonde, gummy tar balls the size
    of palms and sand dollars

    Later, this is what we see:

    Conservationists and clean-up crews studying
    gray skies for fair weather, all day tossing tar
    in bags like corn A few tourists, like us
    hopeful on the beach, wait. For what?
    Clean waters?
    Later, when the shore is humming with
    bulldozers turning sand, we gather our umbrellas,
    wipe oil from our toes
    This is the last our children
    will see, will record

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