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Florida Aquarium unveils an expansion of its coral restoration center while receiving state funds

Tanks at a research center
Ciara Martin
/
The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium has unveiled a 4,200 square-foot expansion to its Coral Conservation and Research Center.

The expanded complex doubles the original facility's capacity with state-of-the-art coral care equipment. The upgrades are worth $3 million.

The Florida Aquarium has unveiled a 4,200 square-foot expansion to its Coral Conservation and Research Center.

The center in Apollo Beach houses several facilities for coral conservation, sea turtle rehabilitation, and various research and water quality testing laboratories.

The announcement comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded the aquarium more than $2 million for coral reef conservation and propagation efforts as part of the Florida Coral Reef Restoration and Recovery Initiative.

Roger Germann, the aquarium's president and CEO, said support for their conservation efforts are crucial — especially now.

“This past summer, we were called out on an emergency assessment. The temperatures in the Keys rose to a level they've never risen to before,” Germann said during the expansion unveiling last week.

"The urgency to really ramp up efforts was critically important because those reefs are struggling. They are having a negative growth impact because of the pressures around them.”

Blue coral in shallow water
Ciara Martin
/
The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Coral Reef Restoration and Recovery Initiative will aid other statewide coral propagation projects tackling long-term recovery and restoration of Florida's coral reefs.

The center is currently combating the effects of rising water climate and acidification in the Florida Reef Tract, the world’s third-largest barrier reef and the largest coral reef ecosystem in the continental U.S..

Florida's coral reefs are valued at $8 billion and underpin more than 70,000 jobs in marine recreation, tourism, and fishery statewide.

A quarter of all marine life also depend on coral for support. Reef research has even helped scientists develop proteins to treat cancer.

But according to the center, Florida's reefs are experiencing a “coral crisis” affecting over 20 coral species in the Caribbean. Aquarium officials say the reef’s current state is exacerbated by many factors, including increasingly warm waters and highly lethal diseases like Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD).

The present SCTLD outbreak in Florida’s reefs is one of the deadliest in history. About 90% of Florida's coral communities have been affected since 2015.

Map of
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Map of Stony Coral Tissue Disease infections in Florida's Reef Tract between 2014-2021.

Amid this crisis, the center has completed its fifth year of coral reproductive efforts, producing millions of resilient coral babies at their laboratory.

They also gained national recognition for being the first lab in world to reproduce ridged actus coral in human care.

The Florida Coral Reef Restoration and Recovery Initiative will also aid other statewide coral propagation projects tackling long-term recovery and restoration of Florida's coral reefs.

The money awarded by DeSantis was part of a $9.5 million initiative to protect Florida's Coral Reef.

“Florida’s Coral Reef protects Southeast Florida against approaching storms and attracts visitors year-round,” DeSantis said in a news release. “Safeguarding our coral reef is important both environmentally and economically and we will continue to support projects that keep this natural resource healthy.”

Ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the Coral Conservation and Research Center's expansion.
The Florida Aquarium
Ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the Coral Conservation and Research Center's expansion.

Ari Herrera is the WUSF Stephen Noble Digital News intern for spring of 2024.