The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dove in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Friday to inspect a coral restoration project partially funded by federal stimulus money.

As part of Earth Week activities, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who also serves as the under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, submerged Friday with Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation to examine his coral nursery project that was initiated about three miles off Key Largo in 2000.

In 2009, the project received $700,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project that is enabling Keys residents to work restoring several coral reefs tracts in the region. A total of $3.3 million of stimulus money was allocated for NOAA-sponsored reef restoration in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The idea is to recover corals and to create jobs in doing that habitat recovery,” said Lubchenco. “Coral reefs are vital to Florida’s economic development and by recovering these corals; it’s an investment in the future.”

Under federal research permits, Nedimyer’s team harvests small, inch-long fragments of live coral and plant them in the special nursery. Several years later the more mature clippings are transplanted at reefs that have been damaged because of vessel groundings.

Last August, some of nursery’s staghorn coral transplants at Molasses Reef were observed spawning. Marine scientists said it was the first known case where Atlantic-Caribbean, farm-raised staghorn coral reproduced to serve as a foundation for future reefs.

The discovery was significant because it showed that cultured staghorn corals can not only survive, but also reach sexual maturity and naturally help with coral restoration.

Lubchenco also dove the area at Molasses where the transplanted staghorns reproduced and are thriving.

“This project is incredibly exciting,” Lubchenco said. “It’s taking individual creativity and scaling it up to recover corals which everybody has thought for a long time that it was next to impossible to do.”

NOAA Chief




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