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With Florida ocean temperatures topping 100, experts warn of damage to marine life

In this image provide by NOAA, a fish swims near coral showing signs of bleaching at Cheeca Rocks off the coast of Islamorada, Fla., on July 23.
Andrew Ibarra
/
AP
In this image provide by NOAA, a fish swims near coral showing signs of bleaching at Cheeca Rocks off the coast of Islamorada, Fla., on July 23.

It's so hot in Florida right now that the ocean temperature in one area just crossed into the triple digits.

On Monday, a water temperature sensor in Manatee Bay near Everglades National Park recorded a temperature of 101.1 degrees, according to a park spokesperson.

The startling data matched high water temperatures observed elsewhere in the Florida Bay recently, and the scorching conditions could pose a major risk to coral and other marine life, experts warn.

"High temperatures over long periods of time can have a detrimental impact on the marine plants and animals," Allyson Gantt, chief of communications and public affairs for Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, told NPR via email.

"The good news is that temperatures are still decreasing by as much as 10 degrees at night, and salinity levels are lower at this time of year than they have been in many previous years," she added.

Jeff Berardelli, Florida WFLA News Channel 8's chief meteorologist and climate specialist, told CNBC that the water around this particular sensor in the Manatee Bay is murky and "contaminated with sediment," and that "water temperatures are reflective of the fact that darker surfaces absorb more heat.

Rising ocean temperatures driven by climate change have scientists and activists warning of the dangerous effects on marine life, including coral that's recently sustained intense bleaching and damage in a short period.

"None of this is normal," the League of Conservation Voters said in a tweet. "We refuse to accept it as normal."

Mariana Fuentes, an associate professor at Florida State University, said that when coral is harmed by warm ocean temperatures, it can have a "cascading effect" on the other marine life that depends on it.

"If you have several species that are being impacted at the same time by an increase in temperature, there's going to be a general collapse of the whole ecosystem," Fuentes said.

Florida has been facing extreme heat

South Florida has been experiencing a sweltering heat wave recently that's been scorching the Miami area and beyond for much of July.

Miami-Dade County has been under heat advisories or excessive heat warnings for 22 days straight, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record was three days.

Earlier this month, the Florida-based Coral Restoration Foundation said the heat wave baking the state is also spiking ocean temperatures and contributing to a massive coral die-off.

"This is not a partisan issue; everyone will be affected. The climate crisis impacts our way of life and all life on Earth," CEO R. Scott Winters said in a statement. "Hopefully, the dire situation we now face will catalyze broader awareness and stimulate aggressive action to address climate change, triggering greater investment in the restoration and conservation of our planet's life, including our precious coral reefs."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez