Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stress Shows on Coral Reefs; UNF Professor Takes Part in Pioneer Research in Waters off Florida

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stress Shows on Coral Reefs; UNF Professor Takes Part in Pioneer Research in Waters off Florida

Article excerpt

Byline: Rhema Thompson

A University of North Florida associate professor has helped lead the way in a pioneer study on Florida's swiftly depleting coral reef system.

UNF Biology Professor Cliff Ross took part in the first-of-its-kind research on the effects of mosquito pesticides on coral reefs. The project, funded by $35,000 from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is part of an effort to find the factors behind the dramatically decreasing health of coral reefs across Florida and the globe.

"We're really dealing with a complicated situation," Ross said. "It's not just one thing that's stressing the corals. It's a combination of global stressors and local-scale stressors."

In the Florida Keys alone, nearly 85 percent of the coral that covered the ocean 30 years ago is gone, Ross said. "If you went scuba-diving in 1980s and you went in the Florida Keys today, it would look drastically different," he said.

In a yearlong study, published over the summer in scholarly journal Ecotoxicology, Ross, along with scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, examined whether the pesticides used to tackle the area's taxing mosquito problem played a role in the fading landscape.

In the Keys, mosquito season happens to correlate with the birth of a particular species of reef known as Mustard Hill Coral, Ross said.

"Unfortunately, if you spray pesticides, especially in the Florida Keys where you're right there on the Atlantic Ocean and right on the Gulf of Mexico, those pesticides can end up in the water and we really don't know what the effects of those pesticides can be on non-targeted organisms," he said.

Ross and his team set out to find out what kind of effects the chemicals combined with rising sea surface temperatures of climate change would have. …

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