Newswise — On Monday, July 18, members of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and SCUBAnauts International will join forces with scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory to plant nursery-grown corals near Looe Key. This event will mark the fifth year of a unique coral restoration partnership that enables citizen science volunteers to participate in cutting-edge marine habitat restoration. [NOTE: Members of the media interested in participating in the dive should contact Nadine Slimak at [email protected]]
"We’re working to restore the only barrier reef in the continental U.S. and, as an organization dedicated to helping the public understand ocean ecosystems and to supporting the next generation of scientists, we’re always looking for new opportunities to involve citizen scientists — like the SCUBAnauts and the Combat Wounded Veterans — in our research programs,” said Mote President & CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby. “Not only do these combat veterans and youth volunteers provide important support to Mote that helps accelerate the coral reef restoration work we’ve been doing since 2006, they also inspire and challenge us all to do more in our shared mission of science-based conservation.” Ten years ago, Mote established an underwater coral nursery where scientists grow colonies of the threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) for replanting on decimated or damaged sections of reef within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. When the colonies reach a suitable size, small fragments nearly 2 inches long (about 5 cm) are snipped off and used to create a new colony — similar to the way new plants are grown from cuttings of existing plants. Then these cuttings are mounted on the reef so they can grow and develop into new colonies. Mote has more than 10,000 colonies of staghorn coral in our underwater nursery —which includes more than 60 genotypes, allowing researchers to determine which corals have the heartiest genetic makeup and the best chances of survival. To date, Mote has planted more than 8,100 coral fragments to help restore Florida’s reef. Members of SCUBAnauts International and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge have been working with the Lab to plant corals since 2012. In the last two years, the groups have planted 1,100 corals to restore the reef. “We keep close track of the coral genotypes that we’re planting each year, and follow up monitoring shows us how well different types survive,” said Erich Bartels, Manager of Mote’s Coral Reef Monitoring and Assessment Program, who oversees the staghorn coral nursery project. “Monitoring of corals planted at our four restoration sites near Looe Key in 2012 showed an 85-percent survival rate of Mote’s transplanted staghorn corals after three years. And our volunteer divers from SCUBAnauts and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge have played a key role in making this happen — they provide the help we need to get the corals planted on the reef.” The Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge (CWVC) improves the lives of wounded and injured veterans through rehabilitative, high-adventure and therapeutic outdoor challenges while furthering the physiological, biomedical and pathological sciences associated with their injuries. The veterans who participate in the outdoor challenges have suffered from traumatic brain injuries, PTSD or have lost limbs. Military medical personnel and prosthetic experts from Florida State University and Florida International University participated in this trip to help evaluate the veterans’ recovery from injuries and develop next-generation prosthetics suitable for extreme aquatic activities. “Our wounded servicemen and women make a powerful impact and example on youth and those who face similar circumstances,” said Ben J. Hayes, CWVC Vice Chair & President. “Through these Challenge experiences, they demonstrate to others that despite their injuries, they too can overcome seemingly insurmountable personal challenges, while advancing rehabilitative research and, in this case, restoring a coral reef that Floridians rely on in so many ways. ‘Challenge–Research–Inspire’ are the principles that govern our program, and our participants truly live up to them.” SCUBAnauts International’s mission is to guide youths ages 12 through 18 along an exciting pathway for personal development by involving them in the marine sciences through underwater marine research activities, such as special environmental and undersea conservation projects, that build character, promote active citizenship and develop effective leadership skills. “This unique partnership exemplifies SCUBAnauts' primary goal, which is to inspire our teens to develop empowering leadership skills, make informed decisions and build character,” said Jim Cassick, President & CEO of SCUBAnauts International. “As much as our veteran mentors influence our youth, I believe that our ’Nauts’ capability, dedication and passion can inspire our veterans just the same. These two seemingly different groups come together to embolden each other to make a positive, lasting impact on our environment.” We’d like to thank Ginger Judge, the Islamorada Islander Resort - a Guy Harvey Outpost, the Looe Key Reef Resort & Dive Center and the COL Richard D. Crosby, Jr., Memorial Veterans Fund at Mote Marine Laboratory for helping to sponsor this coral restoration mission. Founded in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium celebrated its 60th year as an independent, nonprofit 501(c)3 research organization in 2015. Mote is based in Sarasota, Fla. with field stations in eastern Sarasota County and the Florida Keys, and Mote scientists conduct research on the oceans surrounding all seven of the Earth’s continents in 25 different research programs. Mote’s research facility on Summerland Key constitutes the southernmost marine research laboratory in the nation and is dedicated to coral reef research, restoration and understanding the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on marine organisms — especially corals. At the beginning of 2016 Mote began demolition and construction at its new state-of-the-art LEED certified research and education facility on Summerland Key, thanks to the new facility founding donor, the Gardener Foundation, and the generous philanthropic donations from the Rick and Nancy Moskovitz Foundation, Elizabeth Moore, the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation and others. When complete, the new facility will more than double Mote’s research and education space in the Keys, allowing the Lab to expand programs focused on studying and restoring damaged coral reefs and on finding new ways to address global threats to reefs.