Two miles off the coast of Key Biscayne and 30 miles beneath the surf, chunks of coral dangle from white pipes like garlands on the branches of Christmas trees.
These PVC “trees” create coral nurseries, a restoration effort led by the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. On July 19, visitors to the Miami Seaquarium got a close-up view of a miniature coral garden during the unveiling of the “Rescue A Reef: Coral Reef Conservation and Restoration” exhibit.
Rescue a Reef originally started as a citizen science project and has grown into a massive rescue effort to rebuild the country’s only coastal reef. The exhibit featured the same coral âtreesâ used in nurseries and mimicked the process of gardening corals. The new aquarium tank is on display in the park’s main building alongside instructional graphics explaining restoration techniques.
Camp Seaquarium students listened intently to UM research associate Dalton Hesley as he explained how the nursery would help regrow Miami’s coral population.
âWe’re going to collect small pieces and replant them to promote natural recovery,â he said, pointing to the 500-gallon tank. âEach branch can grow 10 to 15 inches per year and house fish. “
These aren’t your ordinary baby coral polyps – they’re local deer horns, and in a year, they’ll be the size of a basketball, Hesley said. Deer horns are a hardy, fast-growing coral that works well in regrowth efforts. Eventually, the exhibit will expand to include a fake reef so visitors can see both sides of the coral restoration process, he said.
Although 11-year-old Madison Lord wants to be an actress and singer when she grows up, she has said she would like to explore coral reefs around the world.
âSometimes I go snorkeling with my mom and dad every now and then,â Madison said. “I love to see the coral and they are important.”
When Madison is older, she can be one of the volunteer divers who help Hesley and her team build and install coral trees. To participate, one must be at least 18 years old and certified in open water or have strong freediving skills, he said.
âEveryone knows coral reefs are in decline, but a lot of people don’t know why or what they can do to help,â he said.
Camper Maddie Volpe, 10, saw coral in Mexico while on vacation with her family, but the exhibit was the first time she had seen them at her home in Miami, she said.
âThey’re really cool. They’ve provided homes for a lot of fish and keep them safe,â she said.
In order for Maddie and others to continue enjoying coral reefs, people need to get involved, said Shannon Jones, education manager for the Miami Seaquarium.
Jones works alongside Hesley to educate clients on the importance of conserving coral reefs. It is essential that children get excited about the coral and help the ocean, she said.
âEven though they may be out of sight, they shouldn’t be out of mind,â she said. “These are the building blocks of the ocean and there is a lot that people can do in their daily lives to help.”