Gardeners set sites underwater

October 16, 2013 

Kathy Echevarria holds corals to be planted as part of the garden clubs' efforts.

Being a member of a garden club doesn't limit you to planting flowers around your house or learning all about the different kinds of palm trees we have in the Keys.

For the Garden Club of the Upper Keys, it means getting wet by helping restore corals in our waters.

"Gardening underwater? Yes, we're helping to restore our precious coral reefs," says club President Marilyn Rogers.

The Garden Club of the Upper Keys is part of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs. With its 13,000 members in 200 clubs and circles, the statewide group has adopted the Key Largo-based Coral Restoration Foundation as a yearlong project and is financially sponsoring the restoration of a designated reef site in the Upper Keys.

One of the guiding principles for successful gardening is "right plant, right place" -- the same holds true for "underwater gardening." These corals are nurtured in a protected area and, when mature enough, planted onto a local degraded reef. The Keys garden club is supporting a planting area on French Reef, where members spent two days participating in a two-day dive program offered by the foundation.

Coral restoration requires similar steps to regular gardening.

"First the coral is grown in a nursery until it is strong enough to be attached to the reef," Rogers said. "The branching corals are then gathered and moved to the protected staghorn or elkhorn coral areas. Site selection and preparation are key elements for success. The gardener diver decides where to site the coral, in what position and preps the spot. The corals are attached with special marine epoxy."

On Oct. 21, garden clubs from Monroe and Miami-Dade counties meet in Key Largo to find out more about the program from foundation President Ken Nedimyer and how the corals they planted are doing.

Florida Federation of Garden Club members can also adopt a coral to be planted on a sponsored reef site. To find out more, go to www.coralrestoration.org.

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