Coral restoration on pause as extreme summer heat looms

By Chelsea Harvey | 03/07/2024 06:31 AM EST

A marine heat wave last year undercut efforts to regrow coral reefs off Florida’s coast. Conservationists are worried this year could be problematic, too.

A turtle swims near coral.

A turtle swims near coral — some partially white or pink, which are signs of bleaching — at Cheeca Rocks off the coast of Islamorada, Florida, on July 23, 2023. Andrew Ibarra/NOAA via AP

Two months into 2024, water temperatures in the North Atlantic are off the charts — raising concerns this year will bring another wave of record-breaking marine heat.

Last year, sea surface temperature records toppled around the world, and about half the surface area of the world’s oceans experienced marine heat wave conditions by the end of the summer.

The high temperatures then and now are especially worrisome to experts working to protect Florida’s vulnerable coral reef — the only extensive reef system in the continental United States. And the heat is putting a damper on some efforts to bolster corals against future warming.


The Coral Restoration Foundation, a marine conservation nonprofit based in the Florida Keys, has spent years growing new corals in offshore nurseries and then relocating them to the Florida reef, a process known as outplanting. It’s a strategy designed to bolster threatened and endangered coral species while improving the reef’s resilience to environmental disturbances.