Student project may help with coral bleaching
The air temperature Friday was warm, nearing hot, on an early September evening at a picturesque Grassy Key quarry. A tarp lays across a portion of the quarry, with aerators, light meters, thermometers, and dive gear scattered around.
It’s the meeting place of the Keys Ocean Rangers (KOR), a group of 17 students, who wrote grants and have put in more than 2,000 hours in the project. They are working several days a week on researching cooling technologies that could one day help corals survive coral bleaching events at local reefs.
With help from an Ocean Innovation Award by the Gulf and Caribbean Research Institute and support from Keys Cable Park, Vertex Water Features and other local companies, the students, ages 9 to 15, have been working to find a solution to reduce impacts from harmful UV light and excessive water temperatures that can affect corals of the Florida Keys reef system. The KOR team hopes corals may benefit from a little help from sun shading and water aeration during stressful summer months like August and September when temps soar.
“Last year, we were studying coral bleaching and saw it first hand at Sombrero Reef,” said Jack Kramer, 15, and one of the founders of the KOR project. “We found studies in the Great Barrier Reef that used shade cloths, so we are testing out those and developing new technologies here to see if they will work.”
In the water, Chloe, 9, and Lucy, 12, discussed the shade cloth and aeration systems. “We got the shade cloth from Home Depot, sewed a large shade structure and used half inch PVC for stability,” said Lucy. They found in their research that the shade cloth decreased the sunlight in the water by 90 percent. Max, 10, and Cameron, 14, explained one of the aeration systems is like the ones used here in some canals to help increase circulation, while the other is a hose system that creates a bubble curtain.
“They are an amazing group of local youths who are working very hard to help come up with innovative solutions to address a major issue facing our coral reefs,” said Jack’s mom, Patricia Kramer. “Besides their love for spending time in the water exploring coral reefs, they hope to inspire others”.
Back on shore, the group showed their 12 temperate loggers wrapped in reflective tape. They found that their temperature loggers were most accurate when wrapped with the tape, Mia, 14, explained. They also get data from five light loggers.
The group says they are in the process of applying for the required permits to eventually test their systems on the reef. Jack closed the presentation saying, “We just hope to make a difference.” And, they are well on their way to being some homegrown Keys kids who do.