Did you know that corals are animals? Many people think they are plants or rocks. They are actually hundreds to thousands of tiny creatures called polyps that band together and take root on the ocean floor. According to the University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, 95% of staghorn and elkhorn corals have been lost due to a variety of stressors. Corals are vital to the health of a reef; they provide essential habitat for reef organisms. To help restore the reefs with threatened Caribbean staghorn coral, they started a program of “coral gardening;” and this year they began taking “citizen scientists” with their scientists and students to help in this effort. I was able to join them on a recent expedition in Key Biscayne.
We were first shown (on land) what the structures would look like that the coral fragments are hung on to grow; how to clean the structures and how we would “plant” pieces of coral on a reef. We then boarded a dive boat, which took us to the first stop: the coral nursery. Those of us who were certified scuba divers donned our gear and went down with scrub brushes to clean the PVC structures that held the coral fragments. Once we were finished, the boat took us to our next stop, which was the reef where we “planted” coral fragments. This consisted of hammering large nails into the ocean floor (easier said than done) and then fastening a piece of coral to each nail with a plastic tie. The corals will eventually grow over the nails and cover them completely.
This is a great project and it was such a pleasure to spend half-a-day working with the scientists in their restoration efforts. If you’re a certified diver, the next expedition is on Saturday, 8/29/15. It’s also possible to help in other ways. For more information, check out Rescue A Reef
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