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UF researcher says harmful soft corals pose threat to Florida marine habitats – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather and Sports

UF researcher says harmful soft corals pose threat to Florida marine habitats – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather and Sports

UF researcher says harmful soft corals pose threat to Florida marine habitats – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather and Sports

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WSVN) — Scientists are sounding the alarm about an aggressive species of coral that has been detected in the Caribbean and, they fear, may already be in Florida.

Paul Evans, research coordinator at the University of Florida’s Invasion Sciences Research Institute, said soft pulse corals are pink to whitish in color and striking.

“They have about eight long tentacles, so they will be on each end of the polyps,” he said. “They do a kind of dance or pulse-like movement, which is why they are called pulsating corals.”

But Evans said they are also aggressive. Once these soft corals invade, they can wipe out important habitats, including seagrass beds, mangrove systems and native coral reefs.

“Our native corals are probably fighting every battle they can, and now we’re adding these aggressive soft-pulse corals that have potential and very easy success if left unchecked,” he said.

The U.S. Geological Survey has partnered with the University of Florida and other federal and state agencies. They are asking anyone who believes they have seen a pulse coral in Florida waters to take a photo and report it.

“If you see something, tell people, tell the experts. Let some of that information get out there,” Evans said. “Unfortunately, there is still so, so, so much to learn.”

Pulse corals have been found in Hawaii, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The northernmost point where corals have been found is Cuba.

Evans said pulse corals reproduce quickly and it is vital to document whether they have reached the Florida reef.

“There may be a small part of the polyp left behind, and they will still reproduce,” he said. “That could get stuck to boats, ships, fishing gear.”

Scientists said a worrying aspect of some of the suspected cases of invasive coral outbreaks is that they may have been intentionally released.

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