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Join a Volunteer Effort in the Florida Keys

Divers Can Cultivate Corals, Capture & Count Fish to Help Restore Reefs

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Divers interested in aiding in reef restoration and participating in coral restoration and propagation can join marine scientists with Key Largo's nonprofit Coral Restoration Foundation in an ongoing mission to preserve the coral reefs of the Florida Keys.

Participants learn about environmental impacts on Florida's reefs through educational lectures and hands-on dives to restore endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals, two of the reef-building species that have the best chance to propagate and create new habitats within a year or two.

Leading the educational dive trips is Ken Nedimyer. President of the Coral Restoration Foundation that was established in 2000, Nedimyer started the volunteer arm of the program in 2007. He formerly collected tropical fish and owned a live rock aquaculture farm, but recognized the need to become a coral cultivator.

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Nedimyer's and the foundation's goal is to re-establish sexually mature coral colonies that can successfully reproduce and repopulate the reefs. The educational sessions focus on coral health, corals' function in marine ecosystems, identification of natural and manmade threats to coral, and ways to protect the resource in the Florida Keys.

Volunteers go on working dives to the coral nursery to clean and prepare corals for planting, and an orientation dive at one of the restoration sites to see firsthand the evolution of corals over time.

At the nursery, corals are started from a clipping about the length of a knuckle and grow to 30 or 40 centimeters. After a year on the reef, the corals grow several inches tall with multiple branches. In five years, they are strong, independent structures serving as habitat for a variety of tropical fish.

In August 2009, cultured corals were discovered spawning after only two years — the first time the phenomenon had been observed in the wild.

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For many, what starts as an interest evolves into a dedicated mission, according to Nedimyer. Visitors often return for repeat volunteer opportunities.

"This is something the average person can get their hands on and do," Nedimyer said. "We have a lot of people who have volunteered, and they 'own' this project. They can take (the experience) back to their home communities — it is a grass-roots way of giving people ownership."

To learn more about volunteering with the Coral Restoration Foundation, visit www.coralrestoration.org.

Coral Restoration Dive Workshop Includes:
Two morning classroom sessions
Two 2-tank afternoon dive trips with Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort
Volunteer program fees for Coral Restoration Foundation
Tanks, weights, sales tax

Three-Night Accommodations
Packages also available

For more information and workshop costs, contact:
Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort
(305) 451-3595 or 800-4-AMORAY

Get Actively Involved!
Join a Coral Restoration Dive Workshop

Become a citizen scientist and join a coral restoration program.

Learn the importance of coral health, corals' function in marine ecosystems and help protect this resource in the Florida Keys in a hands-on way.

Participants go on a working dive at the coral nursery, an orientation dive at some of the restoration projects that have been completed and two dives to plant corals on the new restoration site.



Net Cash and Prizes for Bagging Lionfish

Divers planning trips to enjoy the Florida Keys' living coral barrier reef also can help protect it and give back to the environment by capturing and removing non-native lionfish from Keys waters while vacationing.

A partnership forged between the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the dive community has created hands-on, focused opportunities for Keys visitors who enjoy the island chain's natural resources to take action and remove lionfish. The popular aquarium fish is believed to have been introduced to Florida waters during the 1980s.

REEF runs workshops educating divers about safe collection and removal techniques, and sponsors lionfish derbies and monthly contests open to individuals and businesses that award prizes to those that catch the most lionfish. Divers can learn how to collect, clean and fillet this delicious fish whose delicate white meat is likened to snapper, grouper and hogfish. Although lionfish are equipped with venomous spines that are removed before cooking, the flesh has no poison.

There is no season for capturing lionfish. They can be caught anytime, anywhere and at any size, with the exception of no-take zones within Special Protected Areas (SPAs) of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Lionfish hunters in any SPA area do need a permit to collect lionfish, and these can be obtained from REEF during any of their workshops.

For more information and how to get involved, visit reef.org/lionfish/derbies.



Participation Sought for Annual Fish Count Surveys

Divers and snorkelers can assist in identifying and documenting fish diversity and population trends.

Each July is the Great Annual Fish Count, an international eco-event where volunteer divers and snorkelers gather data used by marine researchers, resource managers and policy makers to help assess reefs' condition and their ability to sustain fish and marine life. Interested divers and snorkelers can organize their own fish count dives individually or through a dive club, or join local dive shops for special fish-identification dive and snorkel excursions.

REEF encourages divers to conduct fish count surveys year-round and, with newly learned fish ID skills, collect data that is aggregated with counts from around the world, adding to the more than 160,000 surveys already submitted for research. Survey results can be reported and viewed online.

Reef fish population data has been used by local and national agencies to develop management plans for coral reef resources in the islands of the Florida Keys, Caribbean, Hawaii and North Pacific.

Introductory fish ID seminars offer divers the opportunity to learn the 50 most common fish in the waters of the Florida Keys. This seminar includes an interactive presentation, free membership to REEF, and an opportunity to participate in a guided field survey dive.

For free scan forms and information about marine survey materials, visit reef.org.


More Volunteer Opportunities in the Florida Keys