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Sunday, August 10, 2008


More than 4,000 species of fish and other sea creatures are in a perilous position as their home faces extinction.

Increased pollution has impacted the coral reefs and our food chain.
Coral reefs hold more than 25 percent of all ocean life and serve as one of the most critical blocks in the human food chain.
"If we were to lose reefs, you basically lose the condominium that holds all those creatures," said Ellen Prager, chief marine scientist for the Aquarius Reef Base research project in Largo, Fla.
Coal reefs have thrived for 200 million years, but dealing with extensive human impact and environmental pressures, including overfishing, water pollution and climate change, have taken a toll on the ocean's populous habitats.
"The resilience of the coral reefs ecosystem is stressed and impaired," said environmental consultant Gary Davis.
Studying the Reefs
Scientists have turned to the world's third largest coral reef, which hugs south Florida's coast and extends to the Florida Keys, to help determine just how human and the environment influence coral reefs.

Prager is among the researchers studying coral reefs off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., in the world's only underwater lab looking for how climate change effects impact the Florida reef.
"By being down here and studying coral reef, we can see how they all act in the real world," Prager said.
The Florida reef is one of the ones facing the most risk because of human impact and environmental stress, but research from the Dry Tortugas, also in Florida, offers some hope.
The nation's most remote island chain, which has shores accessible only by boat or plane, is prime spawning area for coral. It also is a hurricane target. In fact, six storms hit the Dry Tortugas between 2004 and 2005, including Hurricane Katrina.
Each time a large storm hit, it stripped coral from the ocean floor.
"Fifty to 100 square miles of area literally denuded," said Jerald Ault, a professor at Rosenstiel School of Marine Science at the University of Miami. "It looked like your favorite parking lot."
Though Ault said the area was "decimated," it is coming back to life partly because of actions that protect the waters against fishing. The coral has bounced back from the storms and may give insight for other reefs experiencing trouble.


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