Florida Keys DivingKEY LARGO, Florida Keys — Divers can work side-by-side with marine scientists to aid in reef restoration during a series of coral restoration dives set for August 11-13, Oct. 19-22 and Nov. 1-3 with Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo.

The events are scheduled to correspond with the annual coral spawn.

Focused on environmental education, the group advocacy trips are to include educational lectures and dive programs to restore endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals. Hands-on activities are planned for both on land and offshore at Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation nursery and surrounding reefs.

Leading the education and dive trips is coral restoration expert Ken Nedimyer, president of CRF, as part of the nonprofit organization’s mission. Staghorn and elkhorn are both listed on the endangered species list and Nedimyer’s goal is to turn that around.

Class sessions precede dive trips and focus on coral health, corals’ function in marine ecosystems, identification of natural and manmade threats to coral and means to protect the resource in the Florida Keys. Program participants receive hands-on experience in coral restoration and propagation, and learn directly about the impacts on Florida’s reefs and how individual citizens can help.

“This is something the average person can get their hands on and do,” Nedimyer said. “It shows positive results in real time.”

Participants go on working dives that consist of a trip to the coral nursery to clean and prepare corals for planting, and an orientation dive at one of the restoration sites.

At the nursery, corals are started from a clipping about the length of a knuckle, and grow to 30 or 40 centimeters. After a year on the reef, corals grow several inches tall with multiple branches and in five years they are strong, independent structures serving as habitat to a variety of tropical fish.

“Participants in the coral nursery workshops get to see what can happen in a year and five years,” Nedimyer said.

In August 2009 the first cultured corals were discovered spawning after only two years — the first time it had been observed in the wild.

“The goal is to get them to reproduce successfully so the corals that have spawned here can settle 10 miles or 50 miles from here,” Nedimyer said. “What we’re trying to do is put the girls and the boys back together in the same room so that they’ll make babies.”

To learn more about volunteering for coral restoration efforts, visit www.coralrestoration.org.

Amoray is offering a combination stay-and-dive discount package for the event. For details on dive fees and availability, call 800-426-6729 or visit www.amoray.com.

For more Key Largo area information and accommodations, call the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce at 800-822-1088 or visit the official website of the Florida Keys & Key West at www.fla-keys.com.

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