Barrel sponges invading Florida coral reefs

Posted at 10:57 AM, Dec 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-01 10:57:36-05

Winter diving in South Florida always brings a new perspective, especially when you head out Jupiter Inlet on a cloudy day right into bumpy seas.  This day would bring us closer to a problem. Amid the perfect visibility in 80-degree water with turtles and marine life surrounding us, we caught site of an enemy on our coral reefs.

“The competition between sponges and corals is favoring sponges right now,” says Dr Brian Lapointe of FAU Harbor Branch.

Lapointe guides us toward this growing concern not only on our reefs but moreso on reefs in the Florida Keys.

Barrel sponges, fueled and fed by nutrients in the water, are replacing coral reefs in certain areas. According to a new report in Science News, they've been taking over here in Florida since 2000. Lapointe knows firsthand as he has seen what the Keys once had to offer.

“90 percent coral cover as recently as the 60's and 70's, now they're down to 5 percent or less, in fact the Florida Keys now have the least coral cover of any reefs in the carribean region,” says Lapointe.

It is a focal point for scientists who bring many samples to the surface. Each one holds a key to understanding the future of our coral and more importantly how we can save them.

For more information on the plight of coral reefs click here