Biscayne National Park on the southeastern tip of Florida is one of the country's more unusual parks. It's unusual because 95 percent of the park is under water. And yet, that watery realm holds some incredible vistas, vistas such as reefs teeming with rainbow-hued fish, corals, and sponges.
While these delicate reef structures struggle with warming waters, disease, and physical assaults from boaters, divers, and anglers, volunteers at the park are working to preserve them by nurturing coral nurseries.
Every Saturday the Coral Nursery Club, which was organized in 1993, meets to work on three objectives: to rescue coral fragments resulting from inadvertent vessel groundings in park waters; to develop and maintain a supply of natural coral colonies with a diversity that reflects natural conditions in the park; and to provide a platform for community volunteers to participate and learn the intricacies of coral reef management and restoration.
According to the National Park Service, "more than 27 percent of the planet's reefs are gone or have been seriously damaged by boat collisions, polluted water, climate change, and disease. Although reefs are less than 1 percent of the earth's surface, they harbor more than 70 percent of the marine species.
"Biscayne National Park is home to part of the third largest coral reef track in the world. It's also a popular fishing, boating, and diving destination, and park rangers and community partners are working closely to prevent reef damage and identify ways to repair damage already done," notes the Park Service.
To help address this damage to the reefs, park scientists and volunteers are salvaging pieces of broken coral and nurturing them back to health.
"The coral nursery research is giving us new insight about coral growth, reproduction, and the viability of re-seeding coral reefs. Our community volunteers are developing scientific processes that offer hope for coral reef recovery worldwide," says Richard Curry, the park's veteran coastal oceanographer
Part of the Coral Nursery Club's activities focus on generating new corals by searching out reefs that have been damaged by boat groundings or some other disturbance and collecting fragments of broken corals. Those pieces then are taken to the park's nursery, where they are bonded to PVC stakes and nurtured for use either for restoration projects or reef enhancement, according to Dr. Curry.
Through the use of a "passive inductive transponder" stored within the PVC stake, scientists can actually keep track of where each coral in the nursery originally came from.
"Actually, this program is not a research program per se," said Dr. Curry. "What we're doing is taking a lot of the processes that have been worked out in the laboratory for culturing coral and increasing coral growth rate and applying them in a nursery environment in the field."
Most of the Coral Nursery Club's outings and events take place on Boca Chita Key or Adams Key. There are occasional field activities that involve snorkeling around the park's many beautiful patch reefs in search of damaged or endangered coral colonies, according to the park.
All club field activities and meetings take place on Saturdays, leaving from the park's Convoy Point headquarters around 9:30am with an estimated return time of 3:00pm.
Due to boat limitations and safety concerns, weekend events are limited in the number of members that may participate, and volunteers -- who must be at least 15 years old -- are not expected to attend every club outing. Swimmers and non-swimmers alike can assist in the many land-based activities including coral fragment mounting, cleaning and documentation.
To better understand the nursery program, check out this short video: www.nps.gov/americasbestidea/video/protecting_ocean_ecosystems.html.
Kurt Repanshek is the author of several national park guidebooks, including National Parks With Kids. You can get a daily dose of national park news, trivia, and commentary by visiting www.nationalparkstraveler.com, which tracks "Commentary, News, and Life in America's Parks." Follow National Parks Traveler on Twitter at www.twitter.com/parkstraveler.