Join a Volunteer Effort in the Florida Keys
Voluntourism is all about connecting. It’s about connecting with the earth and the ocean. It’s about connecting with people and all living things. It’s about connecting with the natural beauty of The Florida Keys and its unique eco-systems. It’s about connections between cultures and social classes. It’s about giving something back and making the world a better place.
You can be a visitor to The Florida Keys and dedicate a part of your vacation or you can “be local” and get involved on an ongoing basis.
Causes range from reef restoration and beach clean-ups to helping kids or spending time working in a wildlife refuge. Whether you have special skills or interests, or just want to help out, you can connect with the causes and charities that are dedicated to protecting and improving the quality of both human and animal life in The Florida Keys.
Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center welcomes volunteers to help at the hospital and/or the 5-acre sanctuary with habitat construction, care and feeding of wild bird patients, or rehabilitated residents. Volunteer info
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is recruiting and training volunteers for their Team OCEAN program, to serve as boat operators or educational interpreters at busy reef areas on weekends and peak days during the summer months. Volunteer info
Marathon Wild Bird Center always welcomes volunteers to assist with the capture and transport of injured wildlife as well as assisting with the release of successfully rehabilitated birds, in addition to fundraising events, picking up supplies, feeding birds, and more. Volunteer info
The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden has a variety of ways that volunteers can help, including assistance with presenting classes, greeting visitors, gardening, giving tours, and special events. Volunteer info
Key West Wildlife Center’s mission is to ensure the future of the Keys’ diverse native wildlife by providing timely rescues and quality rehabilitation with the hope of release back to the wild. Volunteer info
Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Florida Keys believes volunteers are a valuable resource! Work alongside staff, partner homeowners and other volunteers, to help transform lives. This transformation and energy sustains our passion. Volunteer info
Divers Can Cultivate Corals, Capture & Count Fish to Help Restore Reefs
Dr. Jane Lubchenco, left, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, watches Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation hang a young farm-raised coral in a coral nursery off Key Largo. Photo by Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau
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.
Staghorn coral is one of the predominant reef-building species to have the best chance to propagate and create new habitats.
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.
Coral species utilize a reef-building and reproductive strategy by releasing millions of gametes once a year in synchronized mass-spawning rituals. Photo by Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau
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.
Marine scientist Lad Akins demonstrates how to clean the disk around the coral in the nursery before the disk with the coral attached is removed to be transplanted on a reef in the wild.
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.