Pollution Puts Coral Reefs off Florida's Coast in Peril ; Agricultural Run-Off and Sewage Encourage Algae

Article excerpt

Forty-two madrepore corals were dead, counted during an hour- long dive 50 feet down in the Atlantic waters off Boynton Beach, Fla. Others were half-dead, with stark white patches on otherwise healthy animals.

Coral reefs everywhere are in peril. Many reefs are dead, some are dying, and most are subjected to pollution. How that extermination process is taking place along the coast of America's only continental reef structure, is a story of overpopulation, greed, and negligence.

Scientific base research of the reefs will take years, experts say. But anecdotal evidence reported by concerned divers is urgently warning of the demise of America's last frontier, Florida's Atlantic coral reefs.

"The outflows were terrible all summer long," Capt. Leo Sand says. Owner of the Deeper Dive Fleet, Captain Sand runs scuba charters and trips out of Boynton Beach. His dive boats are on the ocean every day. But recently his customers have reported visibility problems as the South Florida Water Management District opened the gates of its canals.

This allowed fresh water containing agricultural runoff and drainage, as well as sewage, to flow into Lake Worth and the Intracoastal Waterway. At tide change, the flow dumps directly into the ocean.

Sand says the release of water from the canals of Florida's flood- control system is killing the coral. "We see it that same day as dirty, silty, particulate matter that settles on the reefs," he says.

Corals are marine animals, not plants. Free swimming at the beginning of their lives, they eventually settle on some substrate, attach themselves, and begin a colony. Reefs not only prevent beach erosion but provide homes, in their nooks and crannies, for many marine creatures. …