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Combat wounded & injured veterans, SCUBAnauts help Mote Marine restore reef

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Florida’s coral reef got a boost Monday, July 29, when volunteers from the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and SCUBAnauts International St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs Chapters joined scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory at work in Mote’s coral reef nursery in the Florida Keys.

More than six years ago, Mote established an underwater coral nursery where scientists grow fragments of coral — particularly the threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) — for replanting on decimated or damaged sections of reef within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

When the corals reach a suitable size, new coral fragments are snipped off, or propagated, to create new corals — similar to the way new plants are grown from cuttings of existing plants. On Monday, the youngsters and the veterans helped scientists hang the snipped sections of coral on special “trees” where the corals can continue to grow. The SCUBAnauts and Veterans will be going out again Tuesday, July 30, with Mote to continue the work.

By joining forces, Mote has the opportunity to involve citizen scientists in reef restoration and give them hands-on opportunities to learn more about ways reefs can be returned to health. It also helps produce more coral fragments to help restore Florida’s reef. By the end of the two-day mission, the SCUBAnauts and Veterans are expected to produce some 2,000 coral fragments, bringing the number of staghorn corals growing in Mote’s nursery to about 10,000.