Miami scientists scrambled this week to rescue a crop of unusually hardy coral from an unlikely underwater garden at the bottom of one of the world’s busiest shipping channels.
The coral, which may hold clues about how sea life adapts to climate change, is growing in Government Cut. The channel, created more than a century ago, leads to PortMiami and is undergoing a $205 million dredging project — scheduled to begin Saturday — to deepen the sea floor by about 10 feet in time for a wave of new monster cargo ships cruising through an expanded Panama Canal starting in 2015.
Endangered coral and larger coral have already been removed by a team hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the dredging work.
But the remaining coral, deemed “corals of opportunity” in Corps lingo, can be retrieved with a permit. The problem, scientists say, is they only had 12 days between when the permits were issued last month and the start of dredging, not nearly enough time to save the unusual colonies thriving in Government Cut.
“There are just thousands of corals out there, so it’s really a mammoth task,” said Andrew Baker, a University of Miami professor and coral biologist who researches the effects of warming oceans and acidification on coral. “This could be the seed population for climate-tolerant corals, and we’re wiping them out by literally blowing them up.”