Space & Innovation

Fla. Keys Coral Reefs Dissolving Faster Than Thought

Ocean acidification due to climate change is dissolving limestone along the Florida Reef Tract.

Ocean acidification due to climate change is dissolving limestone along the Florida Reef Tract much faster than previously thought, reports a new study.

As the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the oceans become more acidic. But lab studies hadn't predicted a pH low enough to make reefs dissolve until 2050 or later, according to researchers at the University of Miami's Rosensteil School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.

It was widely believed that the reefs would reach a point where they lost more limestone than they were gaining. But the study, published in the in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, [/i ]reports that the limestone forming the foundation for the coral reefs is already dissolving.

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"We don't have as much time as we previously thought," said Chris Langdon, professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami and a senior author of the study. "The reefs are beginning to dissolve away."

The damage could the reefs is expected to reduce habitat for fish species important for recreation and commercially. The Florida Keys reefs have an estimated worth of $7.6 billion, the researchers report.

Two years of collecting samples suggests reefs to the south are reaching the point where their growth cycle doesn't create more limestone than is dissolving during fall and winter.

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"Only the two southern-most reefs were net depositional year-round," the researchers wrote in the study. "These results indicate that parts of the (Florida Reef Tract) have already crossed the tipping point for carbonate production and other parts are getting close."

"This is one more reason why we need to get serious about reducing carbon dioxide emission sooner rather than later," Langdon said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is celebrating "30 Days of the Ocean" in the month of June, and in honor of the organization's hat-tip to life undersea, we take a look, this final June weekend, at some of the organization's captivating marine life snapshots. Here, the eyes of a queen conch (

Strombus gigas

) peek out from under its shell in La Parguera, Puerto Rico.

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Kelp and sardines, just doing what they do, off Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

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This school of permits contains 60-80 individuals, each more than a foot long. The school was observed in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.

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A Caribbean spiny lobster strolls on the sea floor. This photo was shot during a 2010 NOAA expedition in the U.S. Virgin Islands to map underwater habitats and the marine life they support.

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DNA testing confirmed that the eggs pictured here were those of a loggerhead turtle, a marine reptile species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The testing was done by NOAA's Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, in Charleston, S.C., the only lab in the country dedicated to forensic analysis of marine species.

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This manta ray coasts over a reef, in the process inviting much smaller fish to clean parasites and other debris off of it. Manta Rays are the largest type of ray in the ocean.

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Make way for the balloonfish, also known as a porcupine or spiny puffer fish. As its name suggests, it will swell up like a balloon when attacked.

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Here we see a close-up of brain coral in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.

Off the California coast, a group of elephant seals sleeps in the sun on a sand dune on Active Point, San Miguel Island, part of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

With its distinctive reddish and white stripes, its gracefully flowing fins, and its menacing spine, not many fish can embody the beauty, mystery, and danger of the ocean quite like the lionfish. Although it's native to the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish were introduced to the Atlantic and are now found along the U.S. coast, from North Carolina to Florida, and in the Bahamas and Caribbean. The lionfish spells trouble for the balance of ecosystems and fisheries it invades, as it can out-compete native species for food and space. It lacks predators, has a voracious appetite, reproduces quicly, and is spreading fast.