One of the largest marine restorations started in the Keys

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Sunset over Quiet Waters (credit: HolidayTripper.com)

Sunset over Quiet Waters (credit: HolidayTripper.com)

Florida Travel Guide to marine restoration in the Keys

More than 10,000 staghorn and elkhorn corals were transplanted from a nursery where they were grown to degraded reefs in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The reefs are extremely important for the environment but also as a food source, coastal protection and a tourism income stream.

Underwater nurseries

Since 2009, the corals were grown at eight underwater nurseries located from Ft. Lauderdale to the Keys and into the U.S. Virgin Islands. The goal was to raise 12,000 coral colonies, but they almost tripled in size to 30,000. About one-third will be transplanted by the end of this year.

A threatened species

Both staghorn and elkhorn corals were placed on the threatened list under the Endangered Species Act in 2006. They were the first corals to appear on the list, and in the Tortugas and Florida Keys specifically, the population numbers have plummeted since the 1970s. Not only is this reef community vital for fish and invertebrate habitat, it also plays a key role in biodiversity, reef growth and coastal protection. Along with white band disease, algae overgrowth, hurricanes and coral bleaching are among the major culprits.

The Restoration Project

This reef restoration was chosen among 50 projects to receive funding from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), via the the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Nature Conservancy partnered with Mote Marine Laboratory, Nova Southeastern University, University of Miami, the Coral Restoration Foundation and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The $3.3 million grant runs out soon and the hope is that new funding comes into place to continue this valuable project.

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