Declining coral reefs hurts the health of other species and the ocean’s ecosystem
Over the last five decades the Florida Keys has been steadily losing something that until recently, no one thought was replaceable.
Ninety per cent of the hard coral cover has dropped in the Keys over the last 50 years. But now something can be done about it and ordinary visitors and tourists to Florida have a role to play in bring coral back to life.
Dominant reef building corals in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean began declining dramatically starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to multiple stressors including diseases and decline of other species that kept coral healthy.
The decline of that reef building coral had an impact leaving the remaining corals scattered. Without human intervention, the coral in the area could face extinction.
A nonprofit conservation organization has begun working to restore coral reefs. It’s doing this by creating offshore nurseries and programs–coral farming, in other words and the success has been dramatic.
Through propagation, tens of thousands of corals are grown and maintained by staff at the Coral Restoration Foundation and volunteers. Now the technique is being implemented worldwide.
It began with the dedication of founder Ken Nedimyer who as a 40-year-long resident of the Keys had seen first hand the degradation of the Florida Reef Tract. For years,, Ken, his family, and a group of dedicated volunteers worked passionately to refine techniques to propagate staghorn coral. This became the basis of Coral Restoration Foundation’s mission.
“It’s working and making a difference,” says Mari Backus, with the foundation. “Coral in our lifetime is slowly getting a new lease.”
The foundation developed a simple framework of PVC pipe that resembles the shape of a tree The Coral Tree Nursery is tethered to the ocean floor, buoyed with a subsurface float and coral fragments are hung from the branches of the tree. Think of it like a Christmas tree and decorations are being hung off the branches. In this case, the coral fragments are hung using monofilament line.
The tree floats in the water column and is able to move with storm-generated wave surges. This dissipates wave energy preventing damage to the tree structure or the corals themselves.
Here’s where tourists and visitors can step in. The Coral Restoration Foundation is always looking for volunteers and offers a unique and fun opportunity for divers to participate in restoration activities in the Florida Keys.
It’s not just a holiday, it’s a voluntourism and doing work that will make a difference for years to come. The foundation is looking for volunteer divers who have completed 20 open water dives and have their open water dive certification and with their own personal gear.
You don’t have to be a diver to help. The foundation is also open to aquarium volunteers who can help with cleaning or feeding critters in its 500-gallon saltwater aquarium or helping construct the coral trees using power tools.
Getting there: It’s an hour and a half drive from Miami to Key Largo where the foundation is located. The Coral Restoration Foundation is at 5 Seagate Blvd, Key Largo, FL 33037
Phone: (305) 453-7030
Hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.