FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Aug. 13 (UPI) — In ocean waters off Florida, scientists and volunteers are raising plots of rare corals to repopulate depleted Florida and Caribbean reefs, experts say.
Hit hard by disease, global warming and other stresses in the past 30 years, staghorn and elkhorn corals that create reef structures supporting vast varieties of fish, sponges, lobsters and other marine creatures have declined to a few isolated patches in the waters that run from southern Florida’s Palm Beach County to the islands of the Caribbean, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Thursday.
Volunteers working with former tropical fish collector Ken Nedimyer on a reef off Key Largo use epoxy putty to give tiny bits of staghorn coral a toehold.
“These are my little children,” Nedimyer, 54, says of the threatened coral he cultivates on rows of concrete blocks in an underwater offshore nursery.
After a chance discovery of staghorn coral found growing in an undersea farm for commercial aquarium rock, scientists have started raising these corals in offshore nurseries with the goal of transplanting them into the wild.
A row of 10 coral nurseries now stretch from Fort Lauderdale to the U.S. Virgin Islands, growing new stands of staghorn and elkhorn coral.
Repopulated, healthy wild reefs could create jobs in tourism, increase habitat for fisheries and provide hurricane protection, Tom Moore of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s Habitat Restoration Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., says.
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