Students work to restore Florida’s endangered coral reefs

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:

Coral reefs in the Florida Keys are in danger of destruction, but restoring our underwater community isn’t your average college program.

Makayla Davies and Gracia Rojas are both helping with the mission: Iconic Reefs Site Maintenance Pilot program in the Eastern Dry Rocks Reef, about seven miles southwest of Key West.

Davies participates in the program and explains, “Some of my responsibilities have been learning how to identify these predatory species out on the reefs, and also how to safely remove them and collect that data.”

Gracia Rojas is a participant and also a NOAA intern.

She said, “Being able just to have hands-on experience out on practicing restoration methods, and also being able to partake in meaningful work in the local community, acting as a steward is super amazing, especially as a college student.”

Under the direction of Dr. Jason Spadaro, professor of marine science and technology at the College of the Florida Keys, they help the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in its coral reef restoration efforts.

One big part of this is removing predatory species, like snails, from newly outplanted corals.

Spadaro said they do all this “So that we can not only track you know how many snails we’re pulling off of these corals, how many corals are affected by snails and other you know, diseases and other predators, but also where this effort is, how much effort was expended, and how much area we’ve been able to cover.”

And while the predators are native, when you combine them with other factors like climate change, overfishing, and pollution; coral reefs are stressed, which is bad news for the environment.

“They’re a very important biodiverse habitat that is actually a home to the majority of our species,” Davies added.

And economy.

“They support tourism and, and just in South Florida alone support more than 70,000 jobs,” Spadaro said. “However, they also have a much greater economic benefit in mitigating wave energy.” By protecting the coastline from weather events like hurricanes.

The group plans to visit another section of the coral Mote Marine Lab recently outplanted at Eastern Dry Docks. It also takes care of coral from the Coral Restoration Foundation.

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