(WPTV) Fla. — If there’s one place where nature and divers meet, it’s Florida’s Big Pine Key. Here boats at Looe Key Reef Resort carry 20,000 divers a year to one place, Looe Key Reef. It is known as “The crown jewel of the Florida Keys,” yet some don’t see it that way anymore.
To understand what happened here, you have to talk to one man who’s bringing a secret to the surface and he says he has the science to prove it.
“It breaks my heart. It is one of the greatest disappointments of my 40 year career,” says Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Scientist Dr. Brian Lapointe.
We followed Lapointe to Looe Key Reef, where he just released a 30-year study of data and video showing what no one wants to see or hear.
“Sadly we’ve lost virtually all the coral, we’re down to less than 5 percent coral now,” says Lapointe.
This is one of the last living reefs in North America and according to Lapointe, it’s on the verge of death. Nitrogen levels have doubled over the years according to his research.
Coral bleaching, septic discharge, even a new disease called Stony Coral Tissue loss have contributed to the coral decline, but Lapointe’s cumulative data shows one primary issue coming from one consistent place: Southern discharges in Lake Okeechobee.