Project Baseline: Gulfstream volunteers have been documenting and publicizing the Hollywood Outfall since 2013. The small group of concerned divers make regular visits to the outfall, located ~2 miles off shore of Hollywood, Florida a top priority as they explore and enjoy the place they call home, the southeast Florida reef tract.
Historically, Florida reefs held a place in the pantheon of the world’s top ten largest and most productive reefs.
These days, Florida reefs are struggling to survive. A number of factors contribute to reef decline all over the world. Florida is no exception. Storm water runoff, large scale agricultural runoff, residential and commercial property fertilization, and unchecked coastal development, to name a few, stress and often kill coral colonies. While not the sole perpetrator in this cast of human influenced stressors, the Hollywood outfall remains one of six outfalls in south Florida delivering partially treated effluent from urban areas extending from Delray Beach to Miami, directly into the ocean.
Watch CNN's coverage of this issue right here! http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2016/06/26/florida-dying-reefs-sanchez-nd.cnn
Coral reefs have adapted over millions of years to living and thriving in clear, clean nutrient free water. The addition of excessive nutrients being delivered from the outfalls contributes to a process called eutrophication, the buildup of organic matter through the production of algal blooms which, over time, smothers and kills coral. “The problem has gotten so bad in south Florida now, the Florida Keys has less living coral than any reef in the entire Caribbean region, less than 5%,” says Dr. Brian Lapointe, Principal Investigator at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. In short, marine biologists don’t even classify much of the Florida Keys as coral reef habitat from a biological perspective. Hard corals are being replaced by soft corals and algae, eliminating a foundation for hard coral growth which is required to build the majestic reefs Florida was once known for the world over.
Project Baseline: Gulfstream team members are south Florida locals, many of whom have been diving this area for 20 or more years. Some recall a more vibrant time for Florida reefs, where lobsters were an easy grab, life building Staghorn coral was abundant and the water ran crystal clear blue nearly every day. “This area used to be dense Staghorn and Elkhorn coral in all directions but you can see now that’s mostly gone,” says Robert Carmichael, longtime diver and founder of one of Project Baseline’s main corporate sponsors, a company called Global Sub Dive. Placed under public pressure, the Florida legislature passed a law in 2008 to shut down all outfalls by 2025. As that deadline approaches, law makers grow increasingly eager to further delay the outfall shut downs, citing a lack of funding and nominal environmental benefit. Recognizing that the reefs do not stand a chance at rebounding to a balanced and healthy state until these outfalls are removed from the coast, the Project Baseline: Gulfstream divers continue to fulfill their project’s mission by publicizing the existence of the outfalls. The team hopes to keep the damaging effluent in the public eye and by doing so, prevent another legislative extension that will delay outfall removal from south Florida’s wastewater treatment system.
Project Baseline is at the forefront of increasing awareness of Florida reef decline as well as the health index for nearly 70 marine and freshwater environments world-wide. Project Baseline: Gulfstream is one of 70 projects operating in 27 countries under the umbrella of Project Baseline, a marine and freshwater conservation initiative started in 2009 by the charitable, not-for-profit organization Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). The organization’s mission is embodied by each volunteer run chapter, or projects, that establish environmental baselines for the world’s marine and freshwater ecosystems and publicize their condition in manners that inspire the public to demand and support effective protection. The collection of underwater and surface observations (over 1,500 images) are publicly available in Project Baseline's spatial database - projectbaseline.org/database.
Image Credit - Mikkel Pitzner, Project Baseline: Gulfstream volunteer