In late July, water temperatures in the Florida Keys hit a startling 101 degrees — the typical temperature for a hot tub.
The rise was so extreme, researchers say, that it killed some coral reefs in the Florida Keys almost immediately.
“The coral didn’t even have a chance to bleach, it just died,” Bailey Thomasson, a staff member at the Coral Restoration Foundation, told The New York Times. “It just felt like, ‘Oh my God, we’re in the apocalypse.'”
On an average day in July, water temperatures off the Florida coast in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico sit in the high 80s. This summer’s drastic spike not only impacted coral but also put other marine life at risk, experts told NPR last month.
Thomasson and her fellow researchers are now mobilizing to collect two samples from every genetic individual coral, bringing them to land in order to protect their species.
“God forbid everything dies in the water, we still have not lost those individuals,” Jennifer Moore, a researcher who is leading the effort to collect the coral, told the Times.
While coral makes up less than 1% of life in the ocean, more than a quarter of all marine life depends on them. This makes them critical to the health of marine ecosystems.