UNF's #1 Student-Run News Source

UNF Spinnaker

UNF's #1 Student-Run News Source

UNF Spinnaker

UNF's #1 Student-Run News Source

UNF Spinnaker

Recent heat poses major threat for Florida’s marine life, UNF biology professor explains

Extreme temperatures have been commonplace in Florida in recent weeks, putting one of the state’s already-vulnerable populations, its marine life, in even more danger.

Jacksonville residents are familiar with seeing feels-like temperatures well over 100° this summer, some of which were part of the hottest week on record, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer. While ocean temperatures play a significant role in this high heat, the seven seas can’t be blamed for this. Rather, they and the creatures that call them home are victims.

Dr. Adam Rosenblatt, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Florida, explained that there are two main issues that are caused by these upticks in heat. First, hotter water temperatures can stress sea creatures, which can ultimately lead to death. 

This is most abundantly seen in Florida’s coral populations, where bleaching has been a major concern. Bleaching occurs when coral becomes stressed due to changes in its environment, such as heat, and can no longer support the algae that it leans on for survival. Similar to the function of the human immune system, this leaves the coral vulnerable.

A photo of bleached coral
While bleaching causes coral to lose its color, appearance is far from the main concern surrounding the phenomenon. Photo via Unsplash/Nico Smit.

While the National Ocean Service reports that it’s important to remember that not all bleaching is the result of rising temperatures, it is a large part of the equation.

“That’s a major issue because coral reefs support about 25% of all marine species,” Rosenblatt said. “If we lose coral reefs, then that means that those other marine species don’t have the habitat they need to survive.”

These situations naturally force sea creatures to flee these areas and move to cooler waters. Instead of merely affecting migration, it results in marine life finding themselves in entirely new homes, Rosenblatt explained.

“The range of animals shifts over time in the ocean in response to heat,” Rosenblatt said. “Not like migrating back and forth from one location to another, but where they live on a year-by-year basis.”

UNF’s coastal and marine biology program facilitates student research into local waters and their wildlife. Photo by University of North Florida.

The second main issue posed by rising ocean temperatures is one that’s very close to home. With home being our bodies, that is. Fish and other marine species may live underwater, but they need oxygen just as much as we do.

The problem with this is that warm water lacks the ability to hold the needed amounts of oxygen for survival. This is particularly evident with larger fish, who require larger quantities of oxygen for proper respiration.

“Warmer waters can hold less oxygen and that’s just how physics work,” Rosenblatt said. “As the waters warm up, there’s less oxygen for those creatures and they can die.”

Images of dead fish floating on the surface are far too familiar. While this may seem to point to some sinister downfall, such as a virus or disease, it’s often because of this lack of oxygen that’s caused by rising ocean temperatures.

Unfortunately for the species that call Florida home, these problems are confounded by the state’s location.

“We’re already a hot place,” Rosenblatt said. “That means that some of the marine creatures, like the coral, they’re already near their temperature limit.”

There’s less wiggle room for these organisms to adapt with. Once this limit is breached, they are met with an ultimatum: move or die. 

A map showing ocean temperatures along the Eastern coast of the United States
This map visualizes the ocean temperatures on July 24, 2023 along the United States’ Atlantic coast, with particularly high numbers off the coast of Florida. Image by NOAA.

This is clearly a grim situation and, unlike many other social issues, there’s not much one can do on their own to spark positive change. So, what’s the answer to solving the problem?

Rosenblatt believes the solution can be found on the ballot.

“The number one thing that anyone can do is vote,” Rosenblatt said. “You have to educate yourself about where these folks stand on climate change issues [because] at this point, individual actions in your own life are not going to make the difference.”

If progress isn’t made, the beautiful marine life that is synonymous with the Sunshine State may have to pack their bags and leave. Or worse, they might not have the time to make it out alive.


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Riley Platt
Riley Platt, Sports Editor
Riley Platt is a senior University of North Florida multimedia journalism student. A lifelong Jacksonville native, Riley has always had a burning passion for sports, specifically at the collegiate level. He grew up coming to UNF basketball games as early as his middle school days and now gets to cover the Ospreys, living out his childhood dreams. Riley's done a bit of everything with Spinnaker, whether it be writing over 200 articles, doing play-by-play commentary for UNF basketball and even serving as a sports anchor for Spinnaker TV’s weekly Nest News. Riley transitioned from Spinnaker to an internship at the end of the summer 2023 semester and is expected to graduate at the end of 2023. 

Comments (0)

Spinnaker intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, slurs, defamation, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and will be removed if they do not adhere to these standards. Spinnaker does not allow anonymous comments, and Spinnaker requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All UNF Spinnaker Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *