Environmental factors including coral diseases, warming water temperatures and increased growth of algae have brought a decline in the numbers of healthy coral along the reefs.
Coral reefs in the Islamorada area experience exposure to variable water temperatures and high nutrient levels from Florida Bay that can stress coral. That’s why the Islamorada-based I.CARE organization created its community-based approach, inviting visiting and local divers to join scientists to make a difference to the ocean environment.
Founder Mike Goldberg was recently lauded as a CNN Hero for his efforts to recruit recreational divers to help rebuild coral reefs — one coral outplant at a time. I.CARE has educated and trained over 2,000 divers and outplanted more than 13,000 corals with a survival rate of more than 70%.
“We welcome divers to help us plant healthy new coral on the reefs or assist in a marine debris cleanup, then take this education back home and spread the knowledge to anyone who will listen,” said Goldberg.
Three Islamorada-area dive shops offer full-day I.CARE programs on weekends that include a morning of education and orientation with scientist partners from Mote Marine Laboratory, and a full afternoon of diving Islamorada reefs to plant nursery-raised coral.
Divers who have participated in the training within six months of scheduled coral restoration activities don’t have to attend a morning training session. In the afternoon, there are two dives to assist the I.CARE team by transplanting coral, removing snails and algae from coral and monitoring previously transplanted corals.
Key Dives offers programs on the second and fourth Saturday of every month, Islamorada Dive Center on the first and third Saturday of every month, and Conch Republic Divers on the third Sunday of every month.
With so many options available to individual divers, it’s easy to book an experience that fits in with vacation plans and creates lifetime memories. The team at I.CARE hopes coral planting experiences will stimulate divers’ interest in return trips to the Keys to view the growth of corals planted on previous dives — and to plant even more.
For details, visit icareaboutcoral.org.