With today’s resources and knowledge, it is possible to bring coral reefs back to a healthy state—but it must be done soon and fast, says Alice Grainger, communications director for the Coral Restoration Foundation, based in Key Largo.
What better time than in 2018, the International Year of the Reef?
“Life on Earth needs coral reefs,” says Alice. “They are the rainforests of the sea, supporting 25 percent of all marine life, protecting our shores, feeding our people, providing pharmaceutical solutions and breathtaking natural playgrounds that underpin economies around the world. Yet coral reefs are among the most endangered ecosystems on the planet.”
Running from north of Miami to Key West, right on Florida’s doorstep, lies the Florida Reef Tract—the third-largest barrier reef in the world and the only barrier coral reef in the continental United States.
The Florida Reef Tract was once dominated by two species of reef-building coral: staghorn and elkhorn. It now hosts just 3 percent of the once-dominant staghorn and elkhorn cover it had in the 1970s.
“These became some of the first corals to be included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Endangered Species,” Alice says. “Both are listed as critically endangered—one step away from a listing of extinct in the wild. At the current rate we are losing them, all shallow water coral reef systems could be functionally extinct in the next 80 years.”
Unfortunately, the crisis gripping our oceans is invisible to most people.
“It is essential we act together to save and restore these precious ecosystems,” Alice says. “Thankfully, we have the data and technology to enable us to do that.”
Thanks to collaborations with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, universities, Georgia Aquarium, Force Blue, Florida Aquarium, dive operators, private businesses and the local community, the Coral Restoration Foundation has been able to shift its mission into high gear.
The focus is now on restoring eight reef sites along the Florida Reef Tract.
“It is a massive undertaking, but with the right support, it is an achievable goal,” Alice says, noting that true success requires the help of everyone.
There are practical ways to get involved, both on and off the water. Recreational dive and snorkel programs let you help in the Coral Tree nurseries, outplant corals or monitor reefs in the process of being restored. You also can take part in foundation events, volunteer programs, educational activities and donation drives.
“You may feel powerless in the face of threats to our oceans, but hundreds of thousands of ocean advocates around the globe are working to protect the planet’s marine ecosystems,” Alice says. “In the same way CRF’s tiny coral fragments have the potential to grow into large, healthy, reproductive coral thickets, every tiny, individual, positive action adds up to make an enormous difference.”
For more information about the effort to save coral, visit www.coralrestoration.org.