In the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Sport Diver sent writer Terry Ward and photographer Tanya Burnett on a trip to the Florida Keys, to assess effects there. One of the most positive aspects of their trip was meeting Ken Nedimyer, who has just been named a CNN Hero — “Everyday People Changing the World” — for his work restoring coral through his innovative nursery program. Here’s a look back at what Terry reported then…
Today I joined repentant tropical-fish collector turned constant coral gardener Ken Nedimyer for a foray to his offshore nursery near Key Largo, where thousands of staghorn corals are being grown for transplantation to nearby reefs.
“I knew I had it bad the last few years when I’d be out there working on my coral nursery and a little $50 fish would swim by and I didn’t bother stopping what I was doing to catch that fish,” says Nedimyer, who now works full-time for his Coral Reef Foundation in the Keys along with acting as an advisor for other interested parties around the world.
A group of Girl Scouts from Philadelphia is taking part in today’s cleaning and replanting mission — special volunteer cleaning programs are scheduled one Saturday each month, and other opportunities are often available, too; go to coralrestoration.org. We’re all filled with anticipation as we descend into Nedimyer’s nursery.
Ken strips algae here, prunes corals there, neutrally buoyant alongside necklace-like strands of staghorn babies growing on lines below the ocean’s surface. All around us are rows of corals attached to cement bases on the ocean floor.
The CRF has about 5,500 corals growing at present, says Nedimyer. A recent $700,000 federal grant will keep the project going for the next few years and incorporate elkhorn coral into restoration projects too.
I grab a wire brush and join the Scouts on the sandy bottom to scrape algae from around the corals. Blueheaded wrasse arrive to feed on an effortless meal of flotsam, and a stingray wings its way down an aisle before thinking twice and jetting into the blue. Our air gets low long before anyone wants a break from the underwater housekeeping.
When we surface, “that was so cool” is the ubiquitous chorus from the Girl Scouts as we cruise to nearby Molasses Reef, where we learn how to transplant broken pieces of coral onto the reef using an epoxy mixture — roll the epoxy like a blueberry, stick it to the reef like a Hershey’s Kiss and gently ease the coral piece in, says Nedimyer.
One of the Girl Scouts I met had only recently learned to dive, and a different kind of seed that was planted that day.
“I felt like I could fly — I was flying,” Kimberly Kitay, 16, told me after planting baby staghorn corals on Molasses Reef. “I felt like I was doing something to help the environment and I really felt proud. Once I get older, I am so coming to work here.”