The Associated Press reports that temperatures in the Caribbean Sea have reached record highs two months before the usual summer peak, and that this warming trend threatens already at-risk corals. According to Al Strong of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch, temperatures around the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico reached 83.5 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, July 1. Scientists normally see readings like that in September, he added. "We’ve got a good two more months of heating," Strong told the AP. "If it were to go up another degree, it would be pretty serious. That’s what we had last year."
Because of warm summer water temperatures in 2005, as much as 40 percent of coral around the U.S. Virgin Islands suffered from bleaching traumas. Elkhorn coral, considered vital for reef building, was particularly hard-hit, with nine percent dying and much more suffering damage. Under normal conditions, elkhorn coral grows eight inches a year. NOAA has issued a warning to scuba divers and underwater researchers to avoid physical contact with the stressed reefs until waters cool in the fall.