Florida's diverse ecosystems include both shellfish and coral reefs, two habitats considered among the most vulnerable to acidification. The Florida Keys is a hotspot of scientific activity in the Southeast, where scientists are collecting information about how both water chemistry and ecosystems are changing. In Tampa Bay, scientists deployed sensors to track acidification and are answering questions about how seagrass beds can mitigate against changing ocean chemistry.
Research and Partnerships Around Florida
Impacts to Organisms
HARMFUL ALGAL BLOOMS: There have been many studies investigating the effects of acidification on harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Florida. Recent laboratory studies show an increase in growth of the common harmful algal species Karenia brevis under high carbon dioxide conditions. Studies in other regions show HABs may have a selective advantage over other types of plankton under acidification.
SHELLFISH: Shellfish are plentiful in Southeast estuaries and acidification can affect their shells, growth and mortality rates, particularly for larval shellfish. Clam and oyster farms are common in Florida and as a consequence, some areas of the state are particularly economically vulnerable to acidification. A large-scale study that looked at trends of pH in Florida estuaries found that pH has decreased in 8 out of 10 estuaries since 1980.
STONE CRAB: Recent research (July 2022) shows the impacts of reduced pH and elevated temperature on the distribution of the stone crab larvae along the West Florida Shelf. There is a clear impact of these climate change stressors on larval dispersal and on the subsequent stone crab distribution with stone crabs moving north, into deeper waters, and their larvae travelling shorter distances. Results suggest that stone crab populations in Florida may be susceptible to community fragmentation, which could impact industry fishing and other trophic web levels.
TAMPA BAY: The Tampa Bay Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory (LOBO) was installed in December 2017. This mooring will provide insights into how chemistry is changing in response to restoration efforts in the bay and the role of seagrasses in mitigating against acidification.
WEST FLORIDA SHELF: Acidification monitoring sensors were installed in early 2019 on an existing buoy 70 miles west of Tampa Bay. This system will help scientists connect the dots between the Tampa Boy monitoring system and the water chemistry dynamics offshore.
AOML SOP: NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic Marine Laboratory (AOML) Ocean Carbon Cycle group operates a Ship of Opportunity (SOP) CO2 consortium. There are currently 17 ships equipped with automated monitoring equipment.
NCRMP: NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP) collects water samples for carbonate chemistry measurements in coral reef ecosystems around the world, including sites in the Florida Keys.
THE CORAL REEF INDUSTRY: Florida's coral reefs support a massive industry that generates $5.7 billion in sales and income. This economic value comes from visitors that support local economies near the reefs, the recreational boating industry, and the recreational fishing industry. Managing sewage and nutrient runoff is also an important strategy in curbing coastal acidification.
THE SHELLFISH INDUSTRY: Shellfish aquaculture is relatively new in Florida and is dominated by clam farming. The total economic impact was valued at $38.7 million. Florida leads the nation in number of clam farms and is fourth for overall mollusk sales. Studies of socioeconomic vulnerability show that the shellfish industry in Florida's panhandle is particularly vulnerable to acidification due to both nutrient runoff and rivers with low buffering capacity.
COASTLINE PROTECTION: Recent research shows that hard-structure coral reefs in Florida protect $675 million worth of infrastructure and economic activity annually and as much as $1.8 billion in the case of a severe storm. Previous studies have shown sea floor erosion (e.g. loss of reefs) is occurring in tandem with rising seas, rendering Florida more vulnerable to coastal hazards. Maintaining healthy reefs is essential to protect Florida coastlines against rising seas, erosion and storms. Since the 1930's, the majority of the Florida Reef Tract has experienced erosion, which can have consequences that can directly affect how much wave energy hits the shoreline. Natural wave-energy barriers, such as Florida's hard-structure reefs, help protect coastlines from storm-related erosion.