As we last reported, a combination of hot weather and sunny days in summer 2014 has resulted in very a bad year for coral bleaching in South Florida. In this dispatch, we surveyed the natural reef just offshore Fisher Island here in Miami. To make matters worse, the water is exceptionally silty from the Army Corps’ dredging of Government Cut less than half a mile away. The water is 10-15 feet deep here, and nearly all of the coral heads were bleached. However, the most alarming condition we observed was the prevalence of black band disease infecting many of the brain corals. While healthy corals can usually recover from a bleaching episode, a coral suffering from both bleaching and black band disease will probably die. As evidenced from the video, the dredge silt has settled on the corals, and is likely a culprit in causing this black band disease outbreak. Currently, the dredge ships are operating just outside the mouth of Government Cut jetties, resulting in plumes of silt that smother corals on the natural reefs in every direction.
Fortunately, we have seen the water temperatures steadily decrease since the start of September, so we are hopeful that the bleached corals throughout South Florida will begin to recover soon. However, up here in Miami with the Deep Dredge ongoing, our corals may be too stressed out, diseased, or smothered to survive. We will be monitoring the situation closely, and will continue to update as necessary.