Florida Coral Farming | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD

Florida Coral Farming | JONATHAN BIRD’S BLUE WORLD


Coming up next on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World,
Jonathan visits an underwater farm where they grow coral. Hi, I’m Jonathan Bird and welcome to my world! Coral reefs are incredibly diverse marine
habitats that are important to the health of tropical ocean ecosystems. Unfortunately, all over the world, coral reefs
are being threatened. Coral is very sensitive to temperature, and
water quality. In some places, the reefs are not looking
very good. In the Florida keys, several species of corals,
particularly staghorn coral, which grows in shallow water, have been hit hard by a combination
of storms, disease and predators. Ken Nedimyer is doing something about it.
Ken is the founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo, and he has figured
out how farm staghorn coral. Cameraman Tim and I grab a flight down to
Key Largo to meet Ken and learn how his coral farm works. We meet up with Ken on a sunny spring morning
for a day of checking up on his underwater crops. I give him a hand putting his boat in the
water. Ken takes us less than a mile offshore to
the secret location of his coral farm. Ken: I thought it might be fun to pick up
some corals, kind of show you what we do, pull corals off the trees, tag them, and then
bundle them, kinda the whole routine then we’ll take them out and plant them on the
reef… I thought I was just going to observe, but
clearly Ken has plans to try to get some useful work out of me! In fact, he is always looking
for volunteers to lend a hand. We arrive on site and Ken ties up to his mooring.
Next I get a briefing on what to expect underwater and what I’ll be doing to help. Ken’s weightbelt contains an unusual assortment
of tools for a scuba diver. Ken: In case we see sharks! Next it’s time to suit up and hit the water! The coral farm is only 25 feet deep, and it
doesn’t look like any coral reef I have ever seen. The coral is being grown on structures
that Ken calls coral trees. These grunts are already treating the coral
trees like reefs! Each coral tree has a bunch of small pieces
of staghorn coral hanging off of it like Christmas tree ornaments. Over time, the corals get larger and larger,
until they start to crowd each other. What Ken and I are going to do, is thin out
the large pieces. Ken shows me the technique. Basically, he
is snipping off pieces of coral with a pair of wire cutters. Next, it’s my turn, and it doesn’t feel
right to be breaking coral. This goes against everything I have ever been taught! But Ken
assured me that it was OK for the coral on the farm. But we aren’t going to throw away these
coral cuttings. Next, Ken and I are tying short sections of fishing line on all the
pieces I cut off. Then we start hanging the cuttings on a tree.
Over the next year they will grow as large as the pieces they were cut from! A local trumpetfish comes in to inspect our
work. And a resident grouper hides under one of Ken’s experiments. Finally, We harvest a dozen or so large pieces
of staghorn coral and head back to the boat. That is a very impressive operation. There
is a lot of coral growing down there and it seems really happy to be growing on those
little coral trees. Very neat. Back on the boat, I fill a tub with water. This is the coral that we’re going to transplant. You know you let them grow out, then you cut
them off, and hang more up and let them grow out… Ken: Everything out there started with…all
the coral would have fit in this bucket. Really? Next we move the boat a few hundred yards
to a reef where we will transplant the coral we just harvested. So this is a reef called Snapper ledge, and
there’s a big ledge on it and there’s lots of fish usually. But there’s hardly any staghorn coral. You know a lot of people ask why we roll backwards
off the boat. And the answer is quite simple: because if you roll forwards, you’re still
in the boat. It’s pretty amazing. I don’t think many
people get to do this. I’m going to be part of making a new reef! Down on the bottom, Ken leads me to a barren
section of reef that could definitely use some staghorn coral! He starts by scraping off algae and marine
growth to clear a section for the newly transplanted coral. Next he mixes up a putty-like glob of epoxy
that can cure underwater. Then he presses the staghorn coral into the
epoxy. In a few hours it will be stuck permanently. Now it’s my turn to try the same technique
with the next piece. If I don’t scrape all the way down to bare rock, then the epoxy
won’t stick and the coral will most likely die. Ken and I plant about a dozen pieces of staghorn
together in an area about 4 feet across. It takes about half an hour for the two of us
to plant all the coral we brought down. And when we’re done, the fish are already moving
in to their new habitat. This is a piece of staghorn coral that Ken
planted a year ago. It has already grown over the epoxy and into the reef. It’s doing
well and growing quickly. With our mission complete, we head back to
the boat. Thanks to the work of Ken Nedimyer, we now
know that at least some species of coral can be farmed and used to replant damaged reefs.
While this technique doesn’t address the threats to coral, it does provide a new method
for restoring damaged reefs.

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