Damage to coral reef off Palm Beach reported

Divers and environmentalists are concerned, saying one of the most popular areas of reef in Palm Beach County is in trouble and has a lot of new damage.

Conservationist and director of Palm Beach County's Reef Rescue Ed Tichenor says he started to worry when a dredge he was tracking went over areas of reef off the shore of Palm Beach Saturday.

"It had crossed over the reef line several times, which concerned us," Tichenor said, "So on Saturday I put out an alert to our volunteer divers to keep an eye out for damage."

The next day, long-time diver John Christopher Fine says he found damage.

"I came across what looked like an underwater tornado had hit," Fine said. "Like a twister, twisted up and killed all of the marine growth for about a four foot span."

Fine provided WPTV with photos.

Another group of divers, he says, were a couple of reefs south of the one he was on, and also found damaged coral and barrel sponges.

Tichenor says he reported the damage on South Breakers, Flower Garden and Ron's Reef to the Department of Environmental Protection.

He says the DEP has promised to investigate. Calls for comment were not returned to WPTV.

Tichenor says usually, in a situation like this, state officials will find and penalize the party responsible for the damage, then do their best to fix it, cementing corals back onto the reef.

"It's important people get out there as quickly as possibly and start repairing the damage," he said.
       
Fine adds the impact could not only be harmful to the ecosystem but the local economy as well.

"These are the most valuable reefs Florida has," Fine said. "Economic impact is tremendous. People come here to dive, they stay in hotels, they're the most pristine reefs we have in the United States and they're being destroyed."

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