Elkhorn coral Rare Corals Being Cultivated in Offshore Nurseries to Help Depleted Reefs

Elkhorn Coral

An accidental find just off of Key Largo has lead to farms being created for delicate, yet ever so important, species of coral.

Just over 30 feet below the calm waters above the colorful reef off of Key Largo, Ken Nedimyer proudly displays a small slate which reads “Let’s plant corals.”

Along with a team of volunteer divers, they quickly get to work and utilize epoxy putty to help tiny bits of staghorn coral gain a foothold in the great big ocean.

In the vast expanse of ocean just off of Key Largo, Fort Lauderdale, and a few other choice locations, Nedimyer, an accomplished collector of tropical fish from Tavernier, along with researchers and his hodgepodge group of volunteers, are getting to work and raising groups of rare coral species to help repopulate the rapidly depleting reefs of the southeastern United States.

“These are my little children,” 54 year old Nedimyer, commented later that same day, explaining that the endangered coral which he has been cultivating on slabs of concrete, grows much like delicate saplings in an aquatic underwater offshore nursery.

Elkhorn and staghorn corals are classified as undersea architects, they create structures in the reef which then in turn support a myriad of sea lifeforms such as sponges, fish, lobsters, and many others. These reefs have really taken a beating from things like global warming, disease, and many other stresses over the past three decades, and have declined to just a few sparse patches in the warm waters that run from southern Palm Beach County to the islands of the Caribbean.

However, in an exciting turn of events, staghorn coral was found growing in an undersea farm for commercial aquarium rock, and researchers have now begun to raise these diffent species of coral in nurseries located offshore with the ultimate goal of transplanting them back into the wild.

The Obama administration, through economic stimulus money, has been financing the expansion of the $3.4 million project. It is hoped that this will create 57 full time jobs, commented Tom Moore, who is a representative of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s Habitat Restoration Center in St. Petersburg.

Healthy reefs lead to more jobs in the tourism industry, increase the habitat for fisheries, and even provide much needed protection from weather patterns such as hurricanes, Moore continued.

Today there are now a row of 10 such coral nurseries which stretch from Fort Lauderdale to the U.S. Virgin islands, which are cultivating new stands of both the elkhorn and staghorn coral.

“These are two of the most important species of coral,” explained the marine science program manager for The Nature Conservancy, James Byrne. The Nature Conservancy is an ecologically minded group of individuals corporations that have applied for the federal money and is coordinating the work. “The staghorn coral provides very important habitat for juvenile fish, and elkhorn coral is one of the most important reef builders.”

It is nice to see that a group has taken an interest in the “reforestation” of the seas, as well as on land. The ocean is crucial to our world’s survival.. Nice to know someone has remembered that.