While there are no shortage of stories explaining the rapid decline of fragile coral ecosystems around the world something truly inspiring is happening off the coast of Key Largo. Thanks to an 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) progress is being made toward restoring Carysfort Reef, just off the coast of Key Largo.
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 and the elkhorn coral.
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 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 Trees,” with 54 genotypes of staghorn coral and 4 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.
Meanwhile, the Ocean Reef Club has 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.
Watch this space and watch the water off the Ocean Reef Club. Good things are happening.