Corals' death is murder mystery for Carolina oceanographer

RALEIGH, N.C. — Marine scientist John Bruno became interested in coral reefs as a boy snorkeling in the turquoise waters off the Florida Keys above reefs of golden corals the size of football fields.

"It just went on for acres and acres," recalls Bruno, 43, an associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. "They were just full of fish. We'd see hammerhead sharks on the reef and big critters. That is all gone.

"The corals are gone and the big fish are gone," he says. "That's happened in my lifetime."

Healthy coral reefs are as vibrantly alive as tropical rain forests, providing habitat and cover to tens of thousands of fish and other marine animals. They're rarer than rain forests, covering far less than 1 percent of the Earth, and are disappearing much faster. As corals die, the abundance of reef fish declines because of a lack of habitat for baby fish to start life.

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