The coral reefs in our oceans are in trouble. Increasing ocean acidification and pollution are causing serious damage to these once seemingly ageless structures. But with the help of marine scientists at Key Largo’s world-renowned nonprofit Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) and its coral restoration workshops, divers from around the world are helping transplant nursery corals into an offshore coral nursery.
The only one of its kind on the East Coast, the one-acre underwater nursery houses endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals, two reef-building species with the best chance to proliferate into new habitats.
The process enables diver volunteers of all experience levels and backgrounds to see firsthand the evolution of corals over time. Corals are started from a knuckle-sized clipping at the nursery and grow to 30 or 40 centimeters (12 to 15 inches). After a year on the reef, the corals have grown several inches more and developed multiple branches. In five years, they are strong, independent structures serving as habitat for a variety of tropical fish.
After attending educational lectures to learn about environmental impacts on Florida’s reefs, participant divers are taking their newfound skills and help prune, clean and prepare corals for planting. Then, armed with hand tools and underwater epoxy, they make a second dive at a restoration site to affix the clippings, adhering the coral points to the reef.
Since 2007 these educational dive trips have been part of the volunteer arm of the CRF, established in 2000 by Ken Nedimyer, the Foundation’s president.
The CRF’s goal is to re-establish sexually mature coral colonies that can successfully reproduce and repopulate the reefs. Educational sessions focus on coral health, corals’ function in marine ecosystems, identification of natural and man-made threats to coral, and ways to protect this resource in the Florida Keys.
“Our dive program plays an integral part in fulfilling our mission and coral reef restoration goals,” said Jessica Levy, CRF’s science and education director. “Not only do these programs give us the perfect opportunity to educate the public, meet people from across the country and complete much-needed work, but they foster ongoing partnerships with people seeking to actively make a difference in our environment.”
You can learn more about upcoming dive workshops or sign up for upcoming dives by clicking here.