Continuing a hands-on approach to restoring Florida Keys coral reefs, divers from around the world can help transplant nursery corals during a series of unique educational workshops and scuba dives.
Participants help marine scientists at Key Largo's nonprofit Coral Restoration Foundation after attending educational lectures to learn about environmental impacts on Florida's reefs. Following the lectures, divers set out to employ their newly learned skills at an offshore coral nursery.
The one-acre underwater plat houses endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals, two reef-building species with the best chance to proliferate into new habitats. The nursery is the only one of its kind on the East Coast.
Upper Keys and Key Largo-area dive operators offer coral restoration workshops, including a series at the Amoray Dive Resort set for Sept. 12 to 15 and Nov. 1 to 4.
The programs include two-tank dive trips as well as a per-person participation fee that supports the Coral Restoration Foundation's efforts and its education center. For details and reservations, contact the Amoray Dive Resort at (800) 426-6729.
Since 2007, these educational dive trips have been part of the volunteer arm of the Coral Restoration Foundation, established in 2000 by Ken Nedimyer, now its president. A former tropical fish collector and live-rock aquaculture farmer, Nedimyer recognized the need for coral cultivation after witnessing the gradual decline of natural reef corals.
The foundation'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.
On working dives at the coral nursery, divers 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.
The process enables diver volunteers of all experience levels and backgrounds to see firsthand the evolution of corals over time. At the nursery, corals are started from a knuckle-sized clipping 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.
For more information, go to www.coralrestoration.org or call (800) 822-1088.