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Scientists worry extreme ocean temps could cause fish kills, dying seagrass

Scientists worry extreme ocean temps could cause fish kills, dying seagrass
Scientists worry extreme ocean temps could cause fish kills, dying seagrass 02:20

MIAMI - The ocean waters around South Florida are warmer than usual.  

"It's been much much warmer, especially in Florida Bay and the West Florida Shelf," said Chris Kelble. He is the Director of Ocean Chemistry & Eco Systems Division at the Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory of NOAA.  

Earlier this week, the temperature hit 101 in the shallow Manatee Bay in the Upper Keys — with readings in the upper 80s and 90s in other areas. 

Recent rain did a lot to cool the ocean water, bringing Manatee Bay down to the mid-80s on Thursday. At this time of year, the water should be between 83 and 87 degrees. "It will often cool it down, the rain itself is cool, the clouds that come with the rain cool the water down. So we've seen a significant drop in temperatures in the past day," he said. 

Even with the water temperature getting closer to normal, Kelble is still concerned about the hot days ahead, worrying about things like potential fish kills or dying seagrass. "The fact that this is occurring in mid-July is very concerning especially if it lasts until mid-August," he said. 

With all the warm ocean temperatures there's a big concern for coral.

Cam McMath is the Facilities Manager at the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science.  "We're trying to increase the thermal tolerance of our corals which essentially means we're trying to get them prepared for the temperatures to come," he said.

McMath explains scientists are looking at ways to find, create and grow corals that can live in higher ocean temperatures. "We're going to be sampling a lot of these baby corals to figure out which of them is the strongest, which has the best thermal tolerance and then we're going to start growing them and fragging them at a much faster rate than they would grow in the wild," McMath said.

At the same time, scientists are doing what they can to save corals living in the hot water. 

"Tomorrow we're going to send out boats and boats of people just to collect large coral colonies and the idea is just saving as much of the genetics as possible," he said.  

The plan is to return them to the ocean when the water cools more. 

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