Florida's $5.5 Billion Reef Economy at Risk From Climate Change, Report Finds

December 1, 2008


Jerry Karnas - (941) 309-5399 or gkarnas@edf.org

(Sarasota, Florida- December 1, 2008) A comprehensive new analysis of business generated by Florida’s coral reefs warns that more than 70,000 jobs and more than $5.5 billion in economic activity in the state are in grave jeopardy from climate change.

“A business-as-usual approach to climate change could mean a lot less business for Florida,” said Jerry Karnas, Florida project director at Environmental Defense Fund, which commissioned the report, Corals and Climate Change: Florida’s Natural Treasures at Risk.

Florida boasts the only shallow-water coral reefs in the continental United States – and those reefs are a centerpiece of South Florida’s economy. Like coral reefs worldwide, Florida’s are under siege from a range of environmental challenges that could lead to huge economic losses in the state.

The groupers, snappers, jacks, angelfish, and spiny lobsters that thrive on coral reefs make Florida a destination for millions of fishermen every year – and back up Florida’s claim to be the Fishing Capital of the World. On the commercial side, catches of reef-associated species in South Florida account for $158 million in annual sales.

Terry Gibson, the Fishing Editor of Outdoor Life magazine and a co-author of the report with University of Miami Professor Hal Wanless, noted that “from scuba diving in the Keys to charter fishing boats in Miami-Dade to commercial fishing in Martin County, reef-related sales amount to more than $5.5 billion each year.”

But climate change driven by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions is stressing coral reefs and putting the Florida economy at risk. According to Wanless, “a central culprit in the decline of coral reefs is unchecked emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, largely from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.”

New research by Florida scientists is providing surprising new insights into how CO2 and other greenhouse gases hurt coral reefs. First, global warming leads to warmer oceans – which cause harmful coral “bleaching” and make corals more vulnerable to diseases – as is now visible on many of Florida’s coral reefs. As the report describes, innovative research by Dr. Kimberly Ritchie of the MOTE Marine Lab in Sarasota helps explain why: during times of warmer ocean water, corals lose their ability to use natural antibiotics to protect themselves from disease.

Research by another Florida scientist, Professor Andrew Langdon of the University of Miami, shows another way in which greenhouse gases harm coral reefs: as oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, they become more acidic, which stunts coral growth and impairs reproduction.

EDF’s Karnas said quick federal action to limit greenhouse gas emissions can help protect Florida’s reefs and the state’s economy. “We need Congress to cap global warming pollution. This report shows that doing nothing is the worst option for Florida’s economy.”

To see the full report, please visit edf.org/floridacorals.


About Environmental Defense Fund

Environmental Defense Fund is at the forefront of an innovation revolution, developing new solutions that protect the natural world while growing the economy. Founded in 1967 and representing more than 500,000 members, the group creates powerful economic incentives by working with market leaders and relying on rigorous science. For more information, visit edf.org.