A partnership of scientists, combat-wounded veterans and youths is getting ready to restore and repopulate a Florida Keys coral reef.
This Tuesday, members of the St. Petersburg-based Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and the Dunedin-based SCUBAnauts International will join forces with scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory to plant 500 nursery-grown corals near Looe Key, off Big Pine Key, under a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary permit. It’s the sixth year of such a coral restoration partnership.
This year, the state Legislature appropriated $500,000 for Mote to work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and state Department of Environmental Protection to restore about 25,000 corals in the Florida Keys from Bahia Honda to Key West, starting in late summer 2017 and continuing for about a year.
“Not only do these combat veterans and youth volunteers provide important support to Mote that helps accelerate the coral reef restoration work we’ve been doing since 2006, they also inspire and challenge us all to do more in our shared mission of science-based conservation,” Mote president Chief Executive Dr. Michael P. Crosby said.
Ten years ago, Mote, whose upgraded Summerland Key lab and coral nursery opened a few months ago, established the underwater coral nursery where scientists grow colonies of the threatened staghorn coral for replanting on decimated or damaged sections of the reef within the National Marine Sanctuary. When the colonies reach a suitable size, small fragments nearly 2 inches long are snipped off and used to create a new colony — similar to the way new plants are grown from cuttings of existing plants. Then these cuttings are mounted on the reef so they can grow and develop into new colonies.
Only the strongest
Mote has more than 10,000 colonies of staghorn coral in its underwater nursery that includes more than 85 genotypes, allowing researchers to determine which corals have the heartiest genetic makeup and the best chances of survival.
To date, Mote has planted more than 40,000 reef-building coral fragments to help restore Florida’s reef. Members of SCUBAnauts International and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge have been working with the lab to plant corals since 2012.
“We keep close track of the coral genotypes that we’re planting each year, and follow up monitoring shows us how well different types survive,” said Erich Bartels, manager of Mote’s Coral Reef Monitoring and Assessment Program, who oversees the staghorn coral nursery. “Monitoring of corals planted at our four restoration sites near Looe Key in 2012 showed an 85-percent survival rate of Mote’s transplanted staghorn corals after three years. And our volunteer divers from SCUBAnauts and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge have played a key role in making this happen — they provide the help we need to get the corals planted on the reef.”
The mission of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge is “to improve the lives of our wounded or injured veterans by assisting them in realizing their newfound potential for the benefit of all. We focus our efforts on education, rehabilitation, research and innovations in field-based assessments/treatment of orthotics and prosthetics, pos-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury,” the group says on its website.
SCUBAnauts International’s mission is “to guide youths ages 12 through 18 along an exciting pathway for personal development by involving them in the marine sciences through underwater marine research activities, such as special environmental and undersea conservation projects, that build character, promote active citizenship and develop effective leadership skills,” its website says.
Mote’s home base is in Sarasota.