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Protecting our coral reefs

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),AuburnUniversity,GeorgeMasonUniversity, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, and Mote Marine Laboratory are looking for evidence of coral disease and bleaching during a nine-day expedition that began on Aug. 8, according to a NOAA press release.

They will be monitoring the reefs from 50 research stations from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas aboard the 187-foot NOAA ship Nancy Foster.Scientists have been visiting the sites regularly since 1997, according to the report.

“Coral reefs play a vital role in sustaining the health of our oceans and our economy,” said sanctuary superintendent Dave Score in the release. “The data NOAA and our partners are gathering this year will bring the scientific community one step closer to understanding the causes of reef decline, including regional stressors that influence coral diseases and their connection to climate change.”

A variety of factors have led to the deterioration of reef health worldwide over the past three decades, but coral disease and bleaching are the least understood, according to the report. The data from this expedition will be used to analyze trends in reef health over time and prioritize management and research needs.

- Elizabeth Ellis