by Bridget Hickey,
CRF and Recreation Team Intern

How Ocean Reef Can Help Restore Reefs.
The Coral Restoration Foundation

In the 1980’s, Carysfort Reef was known as the crown jewel of the Florida Keys. It had vast expanses of Elkhorn Coral sur­rounding the lighthouse. Flash forward to 2011 and only five small, fragmented populations remained in this once flourishing environment. This isn’t unique to Carysfort; it’s a pattern that is happening throughout the Keys and the Caribbean. Overall, Elkhorn and Stag­horn Corals have experienced a 98 percent decline since 1970 which can be attributed to many occurrences: spanning from human-based issues such as poor diving, snorkeling and boating practices, to issues further out of our control such as the massive die-off of the key herbivore, the black spiny sea urchin. The Coral Restoration Foun­dation has been working since 2003 to replenish the reefs and has been fortunate enough to get involved with Ocean Reef Club. I intern with both organizations, functioning as a liaison. Each month, Coral Restoration Foun­dations hosts a dive program for Ocean Reef members, guests and associates. This program includes a classroom session, hands-on training and working in the coral nurseries. Families and individuals can commit to a variety of different levels of adoption, from adopt­ing a single coral all the way to adopting an outplanted coral thicket. By far, one of the most rewarding parts of working with the Club is getting to see adoptive families work in the nurseries and take those corals out to the reef. There’s definitely a feeling of satisfaction in using your own two hands to make a difference. I can see the excite­ment in the faces of the kids and families that volunteer and mak­ing it even more inspiring for our team. We often see the same faces coming to our programs because once you start, it’s hard to stop. There is nothing else like it and there isn’t a day I don’t wake up excited to go to work. It fills me with joy to meet Mem­bers and guests that realize the importance of reefs in our lives.Unfortunately, all of the corals are in trouble. Our organization is so focused on restoring Elk­horn and Staghorn because they are historically the reef-build­ing corals in our environment. They provide an irreplaceable 3-D structure that thousands of different fish and invertebrates use as a habitat and home. They protect the land from hurricanes and waves and offer thriving diving and fishing industries. Coral reefs face an unfair fight; their decline doesn’t stare us in the face the same way land-based issues like deforestation does. Everything we do impacts the reefs, whether we realize it or not. The bright side of this is that even when we aren’t out on the water, we can still make a positive difference. By reducing, reusing, and recycling, we impact the ocean more than we know. The best rule of thumb is this: if it doesn’t grow in the ocean, it shouldn’t go in the ocean. My internship has been funny; it’s the first job I’ve had during which I’m actively working to put myself out of business. What I mean by that is this: we’re not trying to replant every single coral that has died in the Keys and out on Carysfort. Instead, we want to restore the corals to a reproducing population. This is where there are enough corals out on the reef, and they’re in close enough proximity to one another, to self-sustain and finish the res­toration. When that happens, we can take a step back and let the corals do the rest of the work. Our next outing is Thursday, August 21. You can snorkel or dive and the cost is $99. The morning includes classroom time with the Coral Restoration Team and then in the afternoon the group heads out from Ocean Reef and gets to work. Contact Cristal Clear Charters at 305-367-3051 if you are interested in joining us.