Vets, Mote dive into reef project

On Monday, July 20, Mote Marine Laboratory will once again join forces with members of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge (CWVC) and SCUBAnauts International in an underwater mission to restore Florida’s reef.

During the mission, nearly 50 volunteer divers will join Mote scientists to plant fragments of staghorn coral in a special restoration site near Looe Key in the Florida Keys.

“Our mission with this project is multi-faceted,” said Dr. Michael Crosby, President & CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory. “As the southernmost marine research laboratory in the nation, we’re dedicated to restoring the only barrier reef in the continental U.S. And, as an organization dedicated to helping the public, understand ocean ecosystems and 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.”

More than eight 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 fragments are then mounted on the reef so they can grow and develop into new colonies.

Mote has about 10,000 coral colonies — some 150,000 fragments — growing in their underwater nursery representing nearly 60 different coral genotypes. Since Mote began this work, there have been more than 7,700 coral fragments planted to help restore Florida’s reef.

“Members of SCUBAnauts International and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge have been with us working in the nursery since 2012, coming out to help propagate coral and replant fragments in our transplant area near Looe Key,” said Erich Bartels, Manager of Mote’s Coral Reef Monitoring and Assessment Program, who oversees the staghorn coral nursery project. “Recent monitoring of the 600 corals planted at four different sites in 2012 showed a 74 percent survival rate of Mote’s nursery-raised staghorn corals after being transplanted on the reef including fragments created in the nursery through this unique partnership with veterans and youth divers.”

The Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge improves the lives of wounded and injured veterans through rehabilitative adventure and therapeutic outdoor challenges while furthering the physiological, biomedical and pathological sciences associated with their injuries.

SCUBAnauts International’s mission is to guide young men and women 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.

“Our wounded servicemen and women make a powerful impact and example on youth and those who face similar circumstances,” said retired U.S. Navy Capt. David Olson, who founded SCUBAnauts and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge. “Through these Challenge experiences, they demonstrate to others that, despite their injuries, they too can overcome seemingly insurmountable personal challenges, while advancing rehabilitative research. ‘Challenge–Research–Inspire’ are the principles that govern our program.”

“Seeing the drive and determination of our veterans puts everyday struggles into perspective,” said Jim Cassick, President & CEO of SCUBAnauts International. “This unique partnership fits perfectly with our primary purpose to inspire our ‘nauts to develop effective leadership skills, make better decisions and build character. As much as our veteran mentors influence our youth, we find that our ‘naut’s skill, knowledge and passion inspires our veterans about the future.  These two seemingly different groups come together to inspire each other and make a positive, lasting difference for our environment.”


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