It's been called "America's Great Barrier Reef": It's one of the largest coral reefs in the world, and the only living barrier reef in the continental U.S.
But the Florida Reef, an incredible ecological treasure, is hurting: It’s lost as much as 90 percent of its original coral cover over the past 40 years.
Reefs are essential to the health of our oceans, sheltering countless species. But thanks to the effects of climate change, they're more vulnerable than ever to disease, pollution and overfishing.
Right now, officials are updating the Florida Reef's protections for the first time in decades -- and we’re working to make sure those protections are effective by supporting the strongest possible proposal on the table.
To say the Florida Reef is rich with life is an understatement. Five different kinds of sea turtles, seven kinds of dolphins, whales, manatees and hundreds of species of tropical fish make their home here.
All these creatures depend on the health of the reef's hundreds of miles of coral and island mangroves. And those ecosystems are under tremendous strain.
Global warming pollution is acidifying and warming our oceans, making them more susceptible to the other things that plague reefs: coral diseases, runoff and pollution from nearby cities, and overfishing.
That's why, as we deal with climate change, we need to keep reefs as protected as possible.
Most of the Florida Reef lies within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, an ocean sanctuary established 30 years ago. This year, the sanctuary's protections will get a long-overdue update.
In 2019, NOAA proposed four options for new protections, varying in strength and scope. The agency took public comments, and now it's working on an updated proposal, which it'll release in 2021.
As NOAA deliberates, let's make sure it hears from us.