Keys reef wounded by Irma, but lives with challenges

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) – The superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary says that after efforts to help the coral reef recover from Hurricane Irma, challenges loom for the marine ecosystem.

Sanctuary staff and other agencies found localized, significant damage after the hurricane.

The Keynoter reports sponges in areas of Lower Keys were smothered by sediment, leading to fatal suffocation. Many corals were cracked or overturned.

Underwater debris cleanups are ongoing, with volunteer efforts encouraged. Divers removing trash from water should be careful not to damage coral, and avoid touching lost commercial fishing gear.

Visitors and residents who are in the Keys because of the water generate an estimated $2.36 billion annually. That doesn’t include several hundred millions of dollars from commercial fishing.

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