Monday, May 10, 2021

Some Hopeful News About Florida’s Environment for A Change

Staghorn Thicket

Ever get discouraged about the steady trickle of news about how bad things are in our environmental wonderland of South Florida? Need a break from the steady din about sea levels risingdying coral reefs, global warming, forest fires, red tide, diminished marine life, etc.? Want some good news about successful efforts that offer hope and light the proverbial candles instead of cursing the darkness? Then, come out and hear Roxane Boonstra of the Coral Restoration Foundation speak at the Marco Island Historical Museum on January 17, at 7 PM. 

The story of the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) is a bit of a personal one for me. My daughter at a younger age thought she might like to be involved in the work of coral reef restoration, but life intervened in a big way making that a very remote likelihood. When I first heard about CRF it piqued my interest. First, I wanted to know if this was a legitimate organization and if there really were ways to “restore” coral reefs. If so, I would introduce my daughter to the organization and its work. I have been diving on reefs for about 50 yearsmore in youth, less these daysThe decay of the reefs in the Caribbean and in the Florida Keys is undeniable. There are lots of places I used to dive or snorkel with my family where the reefs are simply not the colorful spectacles they once were, and am saddened that my grandchildren might never get to experience the same wonder. So, the idea of “restoring reefs” was captivating, if only true. 

I called a good friend, Rhonda Gloodt, also a “mature” diver like myself and asked if she would be willing to go with me to Key Largo and check out what is really going on at CRF. She and her husband readily agreed, and we were off on our adventure. Suffice it to say, we were blown away by our experiences. Volunteer divers at CRF, of which there are many, learn under the expert tutelage of Roxane.  

The first was on how to clean the nursery. The nursery is a series of fiberglass trees placed in optimal underwater settings, on which small pieces of coral are placed to grow into larger pieces. The branches of the trees get covered with marine debris and need to be scrapped clean. This is all done under the watchful eyes of expert CRF diver staff. The second chore for volunteer divers is to actually plant the harvested larger pieces of coral, three within the space of regular hula hoop. All volunteer divers work in teams of two doing their assigned tasks in the water. 

Before leaving CRF, Rhonda and I asked Roxane if she would come to Marco Island and do a presentation outlining the deteriorated condition of the only reefs in the continental US, the relationship between coral reefs and fish populations, and the potential CRF represents to turn the decline around and create true “recovery. Roxane agreed, and thanks to Pat Rutledge and our wonderful Historical Museum staff, that is about to happen.  

Suffice it say, from our perspective, it all works. Moving through the water over the replanted, healthy coral areas growing significantly within relatively short periods, is an awesome experience and an incredibly uplifting sight to anyone who cares about the health of our waters and our marine life. Coral reefs in the Keys are being brought back to life, and for me, this is really good news. Perhaps my grandchildren will be able to experience some of this panorama after all. 

CRF is so successful in its operations that a recent news article detailed a $97 million grant to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in collaboration with Coral Restoration Foundation, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and Mote Marine Lab to “restore underwater ecosystems.” Seven reef sites have been identified in the Keys with a goal to “restore reefs to an average of 15% cover.” 

The work of CRF and the science behind the work is well outlined on their website, If you would like to hear about some good news related to environmental issues, do take a peek. Better yet, come out and hear it directly from Roxanne on January 17 at the Marco Island Historical Museum. 

Spawning staghorn corals in the CRF Nursery being studied by scientists.

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