RSS Dredging in Florida could damage vulnerable corals

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    Wednesday, Philippe Cousteau, grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau warned that a plan to expand a Florida port is “lunacy” and that it risks devastation the already degraded coral ecosystem. The plan to expand Port Everglades, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida would require dredging an existing shipping canal making it deeper and wider.

    Those for the project say it will bring new jobs while those opposed say the dredging will smother and kill corals on the only barrier reef off the Continental US. What’s worse is that dredging could even lead to continued decline and possible extinction of an already vulnerable pillar coral species.

    Dredge involves digging up large tracts of seabed and depositing the sediment out to sea, which ends up covering corals which require light to survive. A recent dredging of the port of Miami layered as much as 14cm (5.5in) of sediment on to the seafloor nearby, blanketing parts of the Florida reef. If the dredging project in Fort Lauderdale is approved many fears it will decimate rare corals on the world third largest reef.

    Pillar coral near Port Everglades under threat of being covered by sediment disturbed by dredging. Photograph: Project Baselin

    Cousteau says “There are reefs elsewhere off the US coast, but this is the key one really. The reef is already heavily degraded, and we are very concerned because the dredging for the port of Miami was a disaster by any environmental standards. We can’t afford to make these kinds of mistakes and not learn from them.”

    Corals live in a symbiotic relationship with a photosynthetic algae, which require sunlight to create energy and survive. Dredging stirs up the water column and sediments can smother corals by cutting off the vital supply of sunlight making it harder and harder for corals to feed.

    Rachel Silverstein, is executive director of Miami Waterkeepers, a South Florida not-for-profit is worried the same die off and sedimentation from Miami will happen again in Fort Lauderdale. “These reefs are like the redwood of California, they belong to all of us and we should protect them”. Rachel says that by piling sediment on to corals, we could be “pushing them to extinction” warning, there is a possibility rare corals from this reef system could disappear in our lifetimes. [The Guardian]
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