Volunteering with the Coral Restoration Foundation
One of the many perks to the internship with REEF are the opportunities to volunteer with other non-profit groups in the area. Of the volunteering I’ve done so far one organization stands out as a favorite which is the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). I contacted CRF a while ago (even before I was in Key Largo) asking if I could be a volunteer. Turns out their Science and Education Director is none other than former REEF intern and OWUSS scholar recipient, Stephanie Roach!
Not having done anything like this before, on my first day out with CRF I had no idea what to expect. Jana and I met up with the CRF crew behind a warehouse early in the morning where we we’re introduced to the legend himself, Ken Nedimyer (Founder of CRF), Kevin (manager), Stephanie, and Ben (a long-time volunteer and now the most recent member of the CRF staff). The day begun early in the morning with loading tanks and gear on to the Dusky and once the boat was all geared up we piled in to Ken’s pick up and headed for the water! After a short ride out, Ken ties up to a small black mooring ball seemingly in the middle of nowhere. However, it was a whole other story when you entered the water. Sitting on the sandy bottom at about 30ft were rows and rows of coral “trees” blossoming with Staghorn coral. Yes, I said blossoming- I’m an admitted coral geek so this is allowed.
First thing in the water was a tour of the nursery which is home to about 25,000 coral fragments. Once the tour was over, it was back to business… Steph or Ken would select a tree and cut corals that were growing on wires attached to PVC pipes. The corals would rain down on Jana and myself as we scurried around the bottom collecting them. The first task is to clear off the algae growing on the wires and attach a numbered tag representing their genotype to each coral. So, one might think that in a sandy bottom with nothing but some PVC Pipe trees and wires with Coral there might not be a lot of wildlife, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While pulling off the algae swarms of fish appeared and loved the free snack we were providing them! We collected 10 coral fragments from 10 trees (IE 10 genotypes) for a total of 100 individual corals. All of the tree’s segments were mixed so that one bundle would have ten coral segments, one from each genotype. These were then bundled together in preparation for their transplantation into the wild!
Work in the Nursery
Once we had completed our work we surfaced, not-so-gracefully got back into the Dusky (corals in hand), and headed out towards the Wellwood Restoration site on Molasses Reef, where we dropped in and got to work! Stephanie once again took us under her wing and showed us the proper techniques for literally planting corals!!!
The 5 simple steps to planting coral
- Site Selection
- Lay out an oval of 10 corals (1 fragment from each genotype)
- Clear the benthic till we hit bare rock (aka hammer away)
- Attach coral with epoxy mixture
- Nail in ID marker
Not too hard right? Well let’s not forget to maintain perfect buoyancy hovering only inches from the reef/live coral and the fact that you’re working with actual tools under the water. Oh, and remember to avoid the labyrinth of Fire coral! We repeated these steps for a total of 10 ovals, planting 100 corals over all!! It’s all in a day’s work. Who says Maine Biologist don’t work 9-5 jobs? We do, we just spend 4 of those hours under the water!!!
Since our first dives, we’ve been fortunate to go out on quite a few trips with CRF. One of the more noted ones was rather a last minute adventure- It was a quiet morning at the office when out of nowhere we get a call from Ben to be team leaders (We felt so special!). They had a rather large group show up which REEF had actually worked with earlier on some fish survey dives but CRF needed an extra couple of hands on deck to basically act as crowd control. But anytime out with CRF is a good time!
The work alone has been an unbelievable experience with highlights such as seeing a Goliath grouper swim through the coral trees and having a personal best dive time of 95mins on a single tank!! I also now officially hold a PADI Specialty certification in coral restoration! It is truly amazing work the CRF team is doing and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to witness it firsthand.