“The Florida Reef Tract is the third largest barrier reef in the world,” Alice Grainger, the Communications Director at Coral Restoration Foundation, told Yahoo Finance. “It's actually the only barrier reef in the continental United States. We now have lost around 97% to 98% of its populations.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that coral reefs in southeast Florida have an asset value of $8.5 billion, generating $4.4 billion in local sales, $2 billion in local income, and 70,400 jobs. By one NOAA estimate, coral reefs provide economic goods and services worth about $375 billion each year.
But reefs need people like Grainger to ensure their survival.
“My personal goal would be to get to the point where everybody around the world is so aware of the crisis facing our coral reefs that they're all stepping up to take action — and I'm no longer needed,” Grainger said.
Pamela Hallock Muller, a professor of marine science at USF College of Marine Science, tracks the changes in the Florida Reef Tract over time.
“The problems started that were really observable in the 60s and 70s before the clean water act came into Florida and nationally,” Hallock Muller told Yahoo Finance. “Coral reefs don’t handle major changes in temperature. They don’t handle excess nutrients, they don’t handle less than 14C or more than 32C. We’ve had a couple of winters that have been as hard on the surviving coral as the bleaching conditions in the summer.”
Grainger noted that even though the Florida Reef Tract and other restore coral reefs around the world are responsible for thriving ecosystems, there are not enough efforts being made to protect them.
“The crisis facing coral reefs is invisible to most people,” Grainger explained. “If you can't see it, then how do you know that it's facing extinction? Imagine if the coral reefs were a forest, and we could see, before our eyes, all of the temperate forests around the world declining by 50%.”
“We've now lost 50% of the world's coral reefs in the last 30 years,” she added. “If we'd lost 50% of the world's forests in the last 30 years, people would actually be able to be paying attention.”