It was time once again for another IVS “giving back to the reef” trip to Key Largo to work with our friends from the Coral Restoration Foundation. Joining Dave in attending this weeks trip was Pete Moyer, Barb Wise, Kerri Fortier, and Stephanie Rees. Sadly missing was Jim Cormier, who’s wife Peg had some unexpected surgery this week and he did the right thing and stayed home with her – way to go Jim. Barbara was form Arizona and new to the Indian Valley Scuba family; she was the winning bidder on one of the Key Largo trips that IVS donates to Divers Alert Network each yeah – congratulations Barb!
We started the mission off with another great briefing from Ken Nedimeyer, the founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation. Man this guy knows his corals! We went through Coral 101, and then onto what we would be accomplishing this afternoon at Ken’s underwater nursery, home to over 4,000 live corals that he and the CRF staff have been nurturing and growing for the past five years. We headed out on the Amoray Diver to the nursery, and dropped down for two dives of scrubbing, cleaning, organizing and just giving some love to the young staghorn corals that do so well in the CRF nursery. We also got a complete tour of the nursery grounds, seeing other innovative coral propagation techniques Ken is experimenting with, plus his live rock nursery, where he grows, harvests and ships living rocks to saltwater aquarists worldwide – what a cool career choice, eh? During our time at the nursery we also selected and prepared the 24 corals that were scheduled for transplant tomorrow, setting each up on work pallets, with three different DNA strains represented in each of the eight groupings. We’ll be back tomorrow to pick these up! On the way back in we stopped at the restoration site and Ken and I dropped in with sketch book, hammer, nails and colored ribbons to mark tomorrows work sites.
Thursday morning dawned to another spectacular Florida Keys day, and a perfect one to go diving, let alone helping to restore the coral reef! We loaded up and headed back out, stopping briefly at the nursery so Ken and I could drop down and bring the work pallets up with yesterdays coral selections. These were carefully brought on board, and placed in large tubs of seawater to minimze stress on the short ride to the transplant site.
Florida’s reefs are home to so many beautiful species that everyone wants to go there, but in 1984 the freighter M/V Wellwood decided it wanted in on the action too, running aground on Molasses Reef. While the grounding certainly did it’s share of damage, that was nothing compared to the havoc reeked by the salvage effort as they dragged the vessel back off the reef, leaving a scar of destruction a hundred feet wide and a quarter mile long. Literally everything that could not swim out of the way was destroyed, leaving a gaping hole in one of the prettiest reefs in Florida. This site has seen more than it’s share of various government and eco-group experiments as they have tried to restore the reef to it’s pre-Wellwood conditions. Some have worked well, others not so well, some simply failed 100%. NOAA, the protectorate of all things coral reef, approached Ken a few years ago and offered to allow him to test-plant a few of his staghorn coral clippings in the area to see how they would do. Well, every single one of his original plantings are still there, flourishing, growing from 2 inch long sticks to basketball-size clusters of healthy staghorn corals, and even pieces that have been knoced or broken off have taken roots and grown in the shadows of the parents. Needless to say, NOAA was impressed, and gave Ken and the Coral Restoration Foundation carte blanche to continue his plantings thoughout this site and in other areas.
We moored up to the Wellwood site and Ken conducted a thorough pre-dive briefing. We divided into teams, and passed out the tools, tubs of epoxy, and coral transplants to each team. We dropped in and descended to the restoration area, locating the pins and colored ribbons that Ken & I had placed yesterday. Each ribbon corresponded with a different DNA strain, so each planting group of three corals had the greatest chance to cross-fertilize and build even stronger corals for tomorrow. The teams were assigned two groupings each, and they went to work scraping the hardpan down to get a clean base to glue each coral disk down. Epoxy was mixed, and then a dab was placed on the hardpan, and the coral was placed on this. Fingers worked the epoxy around the base and gently brought it to the edge of the live polyps on each coral, so as to not damage any but to provide a clean base with minimal space for invasive species or algae to grow. Over time, as the coral polyps reproduce, they will completely cover the epoxy base and grow right down to the hardpan, but they can’t accomplish this if algae or soft corals get there first, so the technique of encapsulating the coral disks is key to maximum coral growth and coverage.
It took two full dives to finally complete the mission, with all 24 corals transplanted, epoxied, measured, photographed and documented. A day well spent underwater, and it is tough to match the joy of giving back to something we all love so much, the coral reefs. Finally it was time to head back to Amoray and begin Phase II of this trip, an IVS dive-your-face-off weekend!
Friday morning came and the rest of the gang had joined us, including…………. And, in the “It’s an amazingly small world” category, we were joined today by three of my friends and fellow divers from the NJ State Aquarium (now the Adventure Aquarium) Ed Frankel, Robert Large, Luke Ogden. And, to top that off, one of our own IVS divers and store regular, Kim Zimmerman was there on vacation with his daughter and joining us. Small world indeed!
More to come……