A day with the Coral Restoration Foundation

On Friday, July 13th I spent the day as a volunteer for the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo, Florida. I had done this once before back on Earth Day in 2011. I really believe that this organization is making a difference (perhaps small in the grand scheme of things) but at least they are taking direct action to change things.

During the morning the volunteers received the training necessary for the afternoon dives. As I would expect, there was a noticeable improvement in the morning training session since 2011.

Coral Nursery

For the first dive of the afternoon we went to the coral nursery off of Tavernier, Florida. For this particular trip the boat and dive guide service was provided by Rainbow Reef Dive Center.

As volunteers, our job was to clean algae, sponges and fire coral that was growing near the young coral fragments. Back in 2011 I also worked in the nursery. Our job then was to clean PVC pipe stands arranged on the ocean bottom on which the coral fragments were growing.

Pipe and Cap system

Since then they have changed most of the nursery to PVC pipe “trees” that are suspended in the water. They hang fragments of live coral from the branches of the trees. They found the fragments grow faster hanging on the trees than placed upright on a PVC pipe base like a plant.

CRF Nursery

However, using “trees” did not change the need to clean around the young coral so it does not get covered in algae, sponges and fire coral. Cleaning now takes a little more skill since you need to have good buoyancy control in order to hover beside the “tree” while gently scraping the thin “branches” of the “tree” clean of stubborn growth.

While we were cleaning the trees the CRF interns were collecting Elkhorn Coral fragments from another part of the nursery to “re-plant” on Pickles Reef.

“Planting” the Coral

The goal of our second tank dive was to “plant” the coral on Pickles Reef off of Key Largo. The process involves using a masonry hammer to scrape an area on the reef bottom free from algae for the new coral to be placed on. This allows the adhesive putty to bond to the reef base. We arrange the coral fragments in a circular group so they eventually grow together like a cluster of bushes. The underwater adhesive I mentioned is like a soft putty at this point. We have to use enough putty to secure the coral fragment enough to pass the wave test. We wave our hands over to coral to move the water enough and ensure the coral will stay firm in the adhesive putty long enough to harden despite any current and water movements that my occur.

I hope I can build on my experience, volunteer for them again and improve my skills.

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