Raising the Reef
“I saw the reefs for the first time when I was 15; they were vibrant and loud and full of life. I could hear the white noise of shrimp and parrotfish every time I dove. I went back to those same reefs a few years later. They were silent. The corals I had seen before were gone and all I could hear as I swam across barren seascape were my own bubbles. Seeing the skeletons of animals that had thrived for millennia was devastating. But when I discovered the work of Coral Restoration Foundation™, I also discovered a sense of hope and purpose” -Tessa Markham, Lead Intern, Coral Restoration Foundation™
Coral Restoration Foundation™ is the world’s largest nonprofit marine conservation organization focused solely on the restoration of coral reefs. Built upon the three pillars of science, restoration, and education, we have been working to restore Florida’s Coral Reef since 2007.
Coral Restoration Foundation™ Program Manager Jessica Levy secures new corals to Carysfort Reef in Key Largo, Florida.©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
Coral reefs are one of the oldest and most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, and they are vitally important for our planet’s health. But they are under threat. Over half of the world’s shallow water coral reefs have died, and it is predicted that they could all be gone within our lifetimes.
Coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate.©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
The rapid degradation of coral reefs around the world began in the 1970s as a result of climate change, disease, marine pollution, and other local and global stressors. In 2007, Coral Restoration Foundation™ began developing restoration techniques that are now used across the globe. We are working on a massive scale to support the natural recovery processes of this shallow water ecosystem.
We take advantage of corals’ asexual reproduction strategy, a process known as fragmentation, to propagate 11 species of coral in our offshore Coral Tree Nurseries – the biggest in the world. The Coral Tree design was pioneered by Coral Restoration Foundation™. Suspended on these Coral Trees, branching corals – staghorn and elkhorn – grow two–to–four times faster than they do when attached to the substrate. They can grow from a finger–sized fragment to a basketball-sized colony in just six to nine months. Once they are “reef ready” we take these corals and physically attach them to degraded reef sites in places where these species once flourished. After a few years, these “outplanted” corals will spawn – a sign that they are thriving. The corals we work with are genetically diverse – replenishing genetic diversity is a critical aspect of successful coral reef restoration.
Our offshore nurseries can produce 30,000 reef ready corals in one year. Credit: Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
“Diving on the reefs we’re restoring is a humbling, and sometimes harrowing, experience. Our outplanted corals are often the only examples of these species that still exist in the wild here. Knowing that they have grown and are still alive after one, two, three years is unbelievably joyous.” – Tessa Markham, CRF™ Lead Intern
Corals outplanted by Coral Restoration Foundation™ return life to a barren reefscape.©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™
A career in coral restoration is unlike anything we pictured as children. Our team is made up of a small group of passionate individuals, hungry to make change. Our daily routines have us juggling scuba diving, reef restoration, coral nursery maintenance, data collection, research, and community outreach. Dedicating time to each of these areas has built our team into a diverse community specializing in roles best suited to our skills. You could say we function just like a coral; with each polyp supporting the success of the colony!
The survival of coral reefs depends upon support from our global community. Each water bottle reused, rashguard upcycled, and coral outplanted, brings us one step closer to once again swimming through the radiant, vivacious, reefs of the past.
For more information and to learn how you can get involved, visit coralrestoration.org