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Why are Florida's coral reefs dying? The Sunshine State has a major underwater dilemma.

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An underwater mystery is unfolding off the Florida coast.

Something is making coral sick. A plunge into the blue waters reveals a magnificent underwater world that's now under attack. Bleached and diseased coral make up more than a hundred miles up and down the coast of Florida's famous coral reef.

Our affiliate CBS12 in West Palm Beach took to the water to investigate and go below the surface to show you the problem. Underwater images illustrate the dire underwater dilemma that's baffling scientists.

"Since 2015, we have documented significant loses of stony corals on our reefs."
Nova Southeastern University Research Scientist David Gilliam

The cause of the underwater devastation is not yet known, though Gilliam points to warmer waters, run-off, port dredging and beach nourishment projects as possible culprits.

Florida state Rep. Kristin Jacobs took the coral concern to Tallahassee and brought home $1 million to sample and study the waters from Martin County down to Miami-Dade.

"The coral reefs represent so much to the health and safety and economics of our region."
Florida state representative Kristin Jacobs

“It's greatly appreciated, it’s fantastic a need was recognized, but it's not going to be enough to address the problem,” Gilliam said.

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Jacobs says the state dollars will be used to hopefully allow researchers to begin to understand what went wrong underwater and how it happened.

In the meantime, Gilliam and his team of researchers are taking matters into their own hands, growing coral in underwater nurseries. "We're very successful at growing these corals in the nursery then planting them on the reefs," Gilliam said.

It's only a patch, but these underwater nurseries will help to replace some of what's lost. "We can't grow enough corals to recover the reef. We have to improve the environment then let nature do what it's supposed to be doing," Gilliam said.

"I have confidence that we will learn the lessons that we need to and the environment that we're enjoying today will be here for many many others to come."
State Representative Kristin Jacobs

Our affiliate CBS12 in West Palm Beach, Florida contributed to this story.

See more related Circa stories:
These ponds filled with algae might be the key to saving the world’s fisheries
Coral bleaching is a big problem for marine ecosystems. Here's why.
A record amount of coral died on the Great Barrier Reef this year due to climate change

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