After practicing a sport for several years, often we want something more out of it â a different benefit or end result.
As a diver since 1989, I still enjoy exploring shipwrecks and reefs, dropping off a wall into the deep blue; as an instructor, Iâve trained hundreds of students, hoping their newfound enthusiasm would grow. Yet I have wanted to make this fantastic recreation of mine more purposeful beyond just the enjoyment of underwater life.
I found my answer in hanging corals on a tree. And I am hooked.
It all came about when I volunteered for an experience with the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo. CRF is a nonprofit organization that, since 2000, has been restoring staghorn and elkhorn corals â two important and threatened reef-building species.
CRFâs repopulation effort is the largest marine restoration project of its kind â seemingly a Herculean task, but one that more than 20 other volunteers and I were excited to tackle as we departed on a local charter boat for the coral nursery just a few miles off Key Largo.
The trip followed a morning presentation where we had learned about coralâs health, its critical function in marine ecosystems, what natural and manmade threats exist and ways to protect coral in the Florida Keys. Now we were ready to get wet and get to it.
Ours would be a maintenance dive. Our mission was to collect any broken or loose staghorn coral segments, or branches, to attach to nursery âtreesâ â cross-sections of PVC plastic tubing rigged to the ocean bottom and buoyed at the top to sway gently in a current.
Seemed simple. Descending to only 25 or 30 feet of water we divided into smaller groups, each with a task to complete as we knelt on the sandy bottom.
After we surveyed the nursery rows, Ken collected branches that he clipped into nubs. Our job was to clamp a piece of monofilament around each coral nub, thread the other end through pre-cut holes in the empty PVC tree, and (with pliers) close the clasp around the line so the coral nubbin would hold steady but could sway and, more importantly, grow.
Wow, the hour flew by. Admiring our handiwork, we felt like we had decorated a Christmas tree when the last âornamentâ was placed. Months from now, our nubbins will be transferred to the reef to grow larger, attract fish to the reef habitat and be enjoyed for generations to come.
Other groups scrubbed algal growth and barnacles from nursery pedestals, untangled any corals in the line nursery or collected fragments that were ready to be transplanted to the reef.
Volunteers get to âoutplantâ too, using chiseled hammers to clean away a surface, and securing a coral fragment to the ocean substrate utilizing the âHershey kissâ method (squishing a round ball of epoxy in its middle to make the fragment adhere better).
More than 3,500 staghorn fragments have already been replanted on Key Largoâs reefs. Thatâll be my next volunteer dive.
A tropical fish collector turned scientist and toolman, Ken Nedimyer is a rare lightning bolt of passion, commitment and comedic sense. After a single dive I was enraptured by what this hands-on effort means for people everywhere â not just eco-minded travelers or divers, but anyone who can recognize that no matter how small, our human efforts can help better a place and positively impact its future.