KEY LARGO, FL (February 2019) – Just off the coast of picturesque Key Largo, Florida, something amazing and truly inspiring is happening: mankind is making impressive progress toward actually restoring a coral reef.
Through a unique and innovative partnership launched in 2013 between the non-profit Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), the Ocean Reef Conservation Association, and the private Key Largo community of Ocean Reef Club — as well as the tireless efforts of volunteers and several environmental groups — remarkable progress has been made toward achieving its goal of totally restoring Carysfort Reef, just off the coast of Key Largo.
To make this important restoration project a reality, Ocean Reef Club committed $1 million over five years (2015 – 2020) to enable 30,000 corals to be added to the iconic Carysfort Reef. Through the partnership, the full, large-scale restoration of Carysfort Reef is targeted for completion in 2020. When complete, it will be the first total restoration of a coral reef anywhere in the world.
Like many coral reefs in the Florida Keys and around the world, Carysfort Reef experienced a decline in coral cover of more than 90 percent since the 1970s. This included a drastic decline in two of the region’s most important corals: the staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) and the elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata). Contributing factors could have included excessive high or low ocean temperatures, poor water quality, major cold fronts, hurricanes, parasitic snails, overfishing, poor diving and boating practices, and the massive die-off of sea urchins (a key herbivore). These factors caused widespread death of the corals and the sea life which it supports.
As coral reefs are vital ecosystems made up of coral colonies and a wide variety of sea life, visionary conservationist Ken Nedimyer founded CRF in Key Largo in 2007 as a way to bring life back to the critically endangered coral reefs (i.e. “rainforests of the sea”) in the Florida Keys.
What began as a passionate local effort to develop offshore nurseries and restoration strategies, has grown into a globally recognized organization that has captured worldwide attention from groups striving to save dying coral reefs around the globe.
By growing the reef-building staghorn coral and elkhorn coral in underwater nurseries on PVC “Coral TreesTM” until they are large enough to be transplanted onto a reef, the CRF team and many volunteers are making impressive strides toward restoring Carysfort Reef and seven other coral reefs in the Florida Keys.
Currently, the Carysfort Coral Tree Nursery is home to 104 “Coral TreesTM,” with 50 genotypes of staghorn coral and 50 genotypes of elkhorn coral. Looking like PVC Christmas trees on the ocean floor, the corals are housed in a combined total of more than 6,000 individual coral colonies within the nursery. When the corals are ready to be harvested after one year, they are then planted onto Carysfort Reef.
In total, thus far more than 7,706 staghorn corals and 4,854 elkhorn corals have been outplanted to Carysfort Reef. While Hurricane Irma caused some damage to Carysfort Reef in 2017, thankfully the damage was minimal. The ultimate goal is to plant 30,000 corals by December 31, 2020, which would contribute towards the restoration of Carysfort Reef to levels that existed 50 years ago in terms of density and area of coverage.
Surrounded by snapper, hog fish, shrimp, seahorses, rays and more, Carysfort Reef is again thriving.
Quite notably, the Florida Reef Tract is the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world, and the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.
In addition to their work restoring Carysfort Reef and other reefs in the Florida Keys, the project is also serving as a wonderful means to teach. American academics and students, U.S. government and environmental groups, and scientists from other countries looking to restore their reefs, send biologists to learn about this strategy to nurture live corals, replanting them in like kinds close together, so they can fill in and reforest other reefs too.
“We are so proud of the wonderful and very inspiring progress that has been made at Carysfort Reef,” said Ocean Reef Club’s Sr. Vice President Membership & Marketing Richard Weinstein. “The CRF team, Ocean Reef Club community, Ocean Reef Conservation Association, our business partners, and many volunteers and environmental groups are working hard toward making it a reality that we will be the first to totally restore a coral reef anywhere in the world. This innovative partnership is helping to save this precious underwater habitat for ourselves and future generations. What an exciting project, for which we are all so very proud to be part of.”
Jessica Levy, Restoration Program Manager for the Coral Restoration Foundation, said, “We identified North Carysfort Reef as an ideal site for a full restoration effort based upon the historical importance of the reef, the availability of historical documentation and pictures showing what it looked like in its prime, its accessibility, and the structure of the reef and its surrounding vicinity. Our goal with this project is to demonstrate a best-in-class example for international reef restoration efforts. With our valued partnership with Ocean Reef Club, the Carysfort Reef restoration site is proof that concentrated efforts are making a positive difference for this critical habitat.”
For more information on the Coral Restoration Foundation, visit coralrestoration.org or call (305) 453-7030.
For more information on the Ocean Reef Conservation Association, visit oceanreefconservationassociation.org.
For more information on Ocean Reef Club, visit oceanreef.com or call (305) 367-2611.