a group of sea stars on a coral reef
Healthy, sexually mature staghorn colonies at Eastern Dry Rocks near Key West in 2022. MOTE MARINE LAB/File Photo

Sea surface temperatures are on the rise again in the Florida Keys. Summertime is when local coral reefs may begin to show signs of heat-driven bleaching, a stress response which increases susceptibility to disease, predation and mortality. 

Mote Marine Laboratory, in partnership with Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is seeking volunteers to monitor and report on reef conditions throughout the Keys.

Mote and the sanctuary will host BleachWatch training sessions to engage volunteer divers and snorkelers in the Florida Keys BleachWatch program. BleachWatch provides critical monitoring data before, during and after coral bleaching events in the sanctuary. 

As a community-based reporting program, BleachWatch relies on a large network of trained observers to be “eyes on the water” and provide regular reports on actual coral conditions. This field observation data is synthesized with NOAA’s monitoring data to provide scientists, resource managers and the public summaries of current conditions on Florida reefs. The data is also essential to inform future restoration strategy. 

The program has operated since 2005 in partnership with the sanctuary, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). BleachWatch receives funding from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and from the Protect Our Reefs’ grants program, which distributes funds from sales of Florida’s Protect Our Reefs’ specialty license plate.

How to participate

Recreational and professional divers and snorkelers can get involved by attending an upcoming training session led by Mote. Sessions last about 90 minutes. No scientific background is needed.

  • June 10: 6 p.m. at the Keys History & Discovery Center, 82100 Overseas Highway, Islamorada.
  • June 11: 6 p.m. at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, 35 Quay Road, Key West.
  • June 12: 6 p.m. at Marathon City Hall, 9805 Overseas Highway,  Marathon.
  • June 13: 6 p.m. at Mote’s International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration, 24244 Overseas Highway,  Summerland Key.
  • June 15: 10 a.m. at Reefhouse Resort Conference Center, 103800 Overseas Highway, Key Largo 

Pre-registration is requested at mote.org/bleachwatch. Online training is also available at mote.org/bleachwatch. More information is available from Natalie Springer at bleachwatch@mote.org or 941-685-1860.