Florida Keys fisherman and diver, Ken Nedimyer, experienced the devastation of coral reefs and consequential decrease in biodiversity firsthand. 40 years ago Nedimyer dove beneath the cerulean surface of the Florida Keys and entered a beautiful marine world, he describes as, “the most magical place I’d ever been to”. Like most divers and ocean lovers he continued to dive and be awestruck at the natural beauty and diversity of this unique underwater sanctuary. However, by the mid-1980s he began to notice a disconcerting pattern arise – less fish, less marine life, less corals. He realized that pollution and overfishing was transforming this miraculous seascape into a barren desert devoid of life. As many of us do reading the ocean news, he felt distraught and hopeless as saving the reefs, “became a consuming passion” for him. In fact, it he was so perplexed and frightened at the prospect of completely losing the reefs that the founded, what would come to be the grandfather of grassroots coral conservation, the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF).
Nedimyer still spearheads the project and has developed groundbreaking methods to restore and rebuild reefs, while engaging the community in his work. In addition to education, the CRF’s main goal is to change the fate of Florida’s reefs through action taken to grow fragmented coral and transplant them into diminishing reefs. Currently, there are 5 underwater nurseries that resemble a true rainforest of the sea, complete with coral trees! This mesmerizing coral sanctuary is the largest of its kind in the Florida/Caribbean area, and has successfully produced over 20,000 corals that have been “re-planted” over the years. Trees are designed from simple PVC pipes and have the ability to move with wave energy, to minimize damage of corals during storms. Attached to each tree are fragmented elkhorn and staghorn corals, that grow by 10 centimeters during the 6-9 month period they are hanging from the trees. Nedimyer considers himself a farmer more than anything else because he has discovered the prime planting, harvesting, and re-introduction periods that are perfectly timed to optimal coral growth.
Just like cultivating any other plant, growing coral is time and energy intensive year round. At least three times a week, each nursery has to be checked and maintained, and once the harvesting process has begun even longer hours are worked to rehome this corals. The fruit of CRF have been sweet indeed, as they have successfully planted 25,000 staghorn and elkhorn corals that have revitalized dying reefs and even breathed life into sites where all the coral has died. Over the years, the corals reproduce and each year they grow in size and eventually resemble a complex tangle of colorful corals. Already, Nedimyer says that he has seen fish and other marine wildlife returning in significant numbers to the coral reefs composed of his corals.
The Coral Restoration Foundation emphasizes the need to preserve the coral reefs of the Florida Keys because not only are they stunning to observe when diving and are the life source for remarkable biodiversity, but these reefs are tied to roughly 50 percent of the Keys economy and that of Caribbean nations. The powerful message that Nedimyer conveys through his work saving corals is this: If ordinary individuals truly care enough about a cause they have the power within their minds and hands to innovate change and provide hope for the future. In his case, Nedimyer saw a problem with corals and set out to fix it using logic and ingenuity. CRF is working towards training people around the world to develop a larger network of coral nurseries and sites of re-planting, in an effort to successfully save coral reefs and all they support.
The great success story of corals bouncing back in the Florida Keys due to one man’s passion and innovation will hopefully inspire others around the world to follow in his footsteps and act to preserve what natural beauty remains.