By Theresa Pinto, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – The results of three recent studies show alarming trends for the health of the planet’s oceans, and in particular South Florida’s oceans. What emerges from these studies is that the oceans are ill and humans are the main cause.
On May 21, MOTE Research Laboratory announced that red tide toxins can substantially harm Florida Stone Crabs. They found that depending on a tide’s bloom intensity, it will stress and can kill larval crabs. Florida Stone Crabs are found throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf Oceans, but the annual $31 million market is centered at Joe’s Stone Crab on Miami Beach.
Red tide blooms have been increasing in intensity and toxicity in recent years, with mounting evidence that nutrient loading in Florida’s canal system from agriculture and other human developments are the primary causes.
Following closely, on May 27, Miami Waterkeeper released findings on the impacts that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ improper dredging in PortMiami had on the coral population – namely killing over half a million corals. The study teased apart data that earlier credited the die-off to the Stony Tissue Coral Disease that is currently ravaging the Florida Reef Tract.
Corals worldwide play a crucial role in coastal resiliency and flooding mitigation, in addition to their contribution to biological diversity and local economies. A recent economic report by the U.S. Geological Survey valued this role at $1.6 billion for the South Florida area. This recent local coral kill combined with Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease might impact the resiliency of Florida’s coastal communities.
Then earlier this month, data collected by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography on the levels of microplastics found in the Earth’s oceans demonstrated that every organism sampled in Monterey Bay – and at every depth – had significant amounts of microplastics in their bodies.
Researchers sampled from just below the ocean surface up to 1000 meters in depth. Microplastics are plastic particles smaller than 5mm in length and can include microbeads found in cosmetics or small fibers that have broken off from fishing nets.
The study is the first to systematically look at the levels of microplastics found at varying depths in the seas and paints a grim picture of a thick, soupy solution of seawater and tiny plastics.
“Our findings buttress a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to the waters and animals of the deep sea […] as the biggest repository of small plastic debris,” said Anela Choy, lead author of the paper.
An estimated eight million tons of plastic enters our oceans each year. What is more alarming is that nearly all of it is “missing” because most of it goes unaccounted for when researchers look.
If the smallest ocean organisms are ingesting them, then bioaccumulation (the accumulation of toxins in organisms through the food chain) will ensure that humans and other consumers of sea life will begin to accumulate unknown amounts of plastic in their bodies as well.
How ill and how long the world’s oceans can withstand human encroachment is not known. Rachel Silverstein, one of the four co-authors of the coral paper and Executive Director of Miami Waterkeeper said of the study, “It tells a devastating story of loss that we cannot afford to ignore any longer.”
Andrew Baker, lead author of the paper, continues, “These climate survivors may hold the key to understanding how some corals can survive global changes. We have to start locally by doing all we can to protect our remaining corals from impacts, like dredging, that we have the ability to control or prevent.”