View of Miami beach
Credit: Getty Images

Did you know that Florida is home to the only coral reef in the continental United States? Unfortunately, as much as 81 percent has been buried beneath sediment from the massive dredging project to expand Miami’s port.

According to letters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries service, the damage to the rare corals along Biscayne Bay greatly exceeded what managers anticipated. Additional reports suggest the ecosystem has suffered “up to 93 percent partial death because of sediment.”

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 22: Philip Kushlan, Ph.D. candidate, works on brushing algae from a piece of staghorn coral that is in a holding tank, he is part of a team researching how multiple climate stressors will impact coral reef in the future at the Universit
Credit: Joe Raedle

On the heels of a new survey that revealed 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has suffered from dramatic bleaching—brought on by rising water temperatures—this is especially devastating news.

“Coral reefs are critical to South Florida,” reported the New York Times. “[They] help lessen the damage from hurricanes, are important to marine biodiversity, and lure tourists.”

Yet already, the state is preparing for its next major expansion—Port Everglades. Environmental groups are actively working to prevent a repeat of Miami’s coral destruction, by relocating rare staghorn corals and other non-endangered corals, monitoring sediment levels, and introducing hundreds of thousands of nursery-raised corals.

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 22: Chris Langdon, professor marine biology and ecology, uses a dropper to feed acropora coral in a lab as he studies multiple climate stressors and how they will impact coral reef in the future at the University of Miami Rosenstiel Sch
Credit: Joe Raedle

Whether or not this is enough to save Floridian reefs (which have already been reduced by 80 or 90 percent due to the white plague virus, pollution, global warming, and acidification) will likely be unclear for many years.

Want to do your part to thelp the world's coral reefs—and with more immediate gratification? Check out this amazing program letting travelers plant and clean reefs across the globe.

Melanie Lieberman is the Assistant Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melanietaryn.