Participants learn about environmental impacts on Florida’s reefs through educational lectures and hands-on dives to restore endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals, two of the reef-building species that have the best chance to propagate and create new habitats within a year or two.
Leading the educational dive trips is Ken Nedimyer. President of the Coral Restoration Foundation that was established in 2000, Nedimyer started the volunteer arm of the program in 2007. He formerly collected tropical fish and owned a live rock aquaculture farm, but recognized the need to become a coral cultivator.
Nedimyer’s and the foundation’s goal is to re-establish sexually mature coral colonies that can successfully reproduce and repopulate the reefs. The educational sessions focus on coral health, corals’ function in marine ecosystems, identification of natural and manmade threats to coral, and ways to protect the resource in the Florida Keys.
Volunteers go on working dives to the coral nursery to clean and prepare corals for planting, and an orientation dive at one of the restoration sites to see firsthand the evolution of corals over time.
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, the corals grow several inches tall with multiple branches. In five years, they are strong, independent structures serving as habitat for a variety of tropical fish.
In August 2009, cultured corals were discovered spawning after only two years — the first time the phenomenon had been observed in the wild.
For many, what starts as an interest evolves into a dedicated mission, according to Nedimyer. Visitors often return for repeat volunteer opportunities.
“This is something the average person can get their hands on and do,” Nedimyer said. “We have a lot of people who have volunteered, and they ‘own’ this project. They can take (the experience) back to their home communities — it is a grass-roots way of giving people ownership.”
Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Center, located at mile marker 104.2, offers a combination stay-and-dive package for the 2011 coral restoration workshop, which is scheduled Tuesday through Thursday, Oct. 11-13.
Cost is $456.50 per person and includes three nights’ lodging and sales tax, tanks, weights, classroom sessions and dive trips to work in the nursery and transplant corals on the reef. For details, call 800-426-6729 or visit www.amoray.com. Dates are subject to change, based on availability.
Coral Restoration Foundation: www.coralrestoration.org
Key Largo visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keylargo or 800-822-1088