Islamorada's I.CARE: A Community-based Approach to Reef Restoration
Coral reefs are considered the rainforests of the oceans, supporting marine life, protecting shorelines and providing food and economic benefits to humans. Along with thousands of the world's ocean advocates, recreational divers interested in volunteering can participate in protecting this resource through coral restoration.
Multiple coral restoration organizations are engaged in an ongoing mission to preserve the coral reefs of the Florida Keys and explore the challenges coral reefs are facing. These groups are doing research and creating programs where citizens can get actively involved with cleanup dives, coral outplanting trips and reef monitoring trips.
The Keys' newest organization to join in the effort is I.CARE, located in Islamorada. In partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, I.CARE is coordinating the installation of a land-based coral nursery at Bud N' Mary's Marina - the first and only one of its kind in Islamorada. Corals raised there are to be specifically dedicated to restoring reefs off Islamorada and the Middle Keys.
I.CARE's mission is to incorporate local businesses, residents and visitors in the restoration and maintenance of coral reef communities.
This community-based approach to reef restoration enables volunteer scuba divers to join professional dive operators in the area and work alongside marine scientists in a hands-on way, participating in activities that include coral transplanting, marine debris cleanups and reef monitoring.
Divers and ocean enthusiasts who better understand environmental impacts on coral reefs can apply learned methods to help reefs re-establish coral colonies. When sexually mature, these colonies can successfully reproduce and repopulate the reefs as strong, independent structures that serve as habitat for a variety of tropical fish.
Mike Goldberg, co-founder of I.CARE and owner of Key Dives, encourages all residents and visitors interested in ocean conservation to get actively involved to protect and restore the reefs and - equally important - to preserve the Keys lifestyle.
"To all divers who come here, dedicate one day to giving back. Get involved with restoration of our reefs, join a coral outplant trip, assist in a marine debris cleanup dive or tour a coral nursery," Goldberg said.
"Take this education back to your home and spread the knowledge to anyone who will listen," he advised.