A platoon of Plantapalooza divers splashes down at Upper Keys reefs Monday to place 1,000 staghorn corals on the sea floor as a celebration of World Oceans Day, created by the United Nations in 2008.
Key Largo's Coral Restoration Foundation has organized its first Plantapalooza to promote "an even greater awareness to the importance of restoration, preservation and conservation of corals and the world's oceans," said Ashley Hill, foundation outreach coordinator.
Divers including eight foundation staff members and dive-certified volunteers are scheduled to plant the cultured staghorn corals at approved sites on Molasses Reef, Carysfort Reef, Grecian Rocks, Little Conch Reef, Conch Reef, Snapper Ledge and Pickles Reef.
"This is what we do every day but this is doing it in a really big way," said Martha Roesler, foundation development manager.
"All of our work is about protecting and restoring the Florida Keys coral reef, which truly is a national treasure," Roesler said.
The goal of 1,000 staghorn plantings could set a one-day record, according to the group. "The CRF is a lean and effective coral-planting machine," Hill said.
The foundation logged 15,000 plantings in 2014 and 23,000 so far this year.
Spaces for 16 certified recreational divers were set aside for the World Oceans Day event. Volunteers go through a morning educational session followed by a two-tank planting. A handful of spots were open at press time; call the foundation at (305) 453-7030 for more information. A $180-per-diver donation includes the trip, a commemorative shirt and post-dive party.
The Coral Reef Foundation was founded by Tavernier resident Ken Nedimyer, a Keys diver since 1969 and a 36-year resident. Nedimyer established an underwater nursery after finding that the branching staghorn coral could be regrown from cuttings and planted at the reef.
Considered a pioneer in reef-restoration, the foundation now hosts more than 1,000 divers in planting programs every year. For more information, go to www.coralrestoration.org.