Goldberg does everything he can to protect our oceans. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

What would you do with $100,000? 

If you’re Mike Goldberg, a hometown hero in the coral restoration world and newly-minted Top 10 CNN Hero, you’d plant a lot of corals and spread the message about why they matter as widely as possible. 

CNN Heroes are “everyday people who are making extraordinary contributions to help improve the lives of others,” the news agency says. Nominated from around the world, CNN Heroes are selected and featured for their work and contributions to the world, an honor that Goldberg received earlier this year for his work with I.CARE, an Islamorada-based coral restoration nonprofit that he co-founded with Kylie Smith. 

Corals are vital to the survival of people and planet, deflecting 95% of storm energy, nurturing 25% of marine life, and feeding more than a billion people worldwide. Here in the Keys, corals have been the backbone of the coastal economy and way of life for centuries. 

Unfortunately, Goldberg noted, the Keys have already lost over 95% of our living coral. By partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, I.CARE works to restore our marine ecosystem through science-based, community-backed action – starting with the endangered corals that used to dominate these waters. In doing so, Goldberg and Smith hope to revitalize the local blue economy and create resilience for the community. So far, I.CARE has planted over 10,000 corals and educated more than 2,000.

In November, Goldberg was announced as a Top 10 Hero. 

“Michael Goldberg is a local hero in Islamorada,” said Monroe County Commissioner David Rice. “Through Mike’s dedication, he has accomplished a great deal in a short time. It is a remarkable thing to have a Keys homegrown cause elevated to such a high international honor.”

Goldberg is the only Top 10 Hero working on an environmental cause, and the only one from South Florida. He and the other nine will each receive a $10,000 award and contend for the title of CNN’s Hero of the Year. Chosen by public vote, that person earns an additional $100,000 prize for their cause. 

Kylie Smith and Mike Goldberg co-founded I.CARE in Islamorada to restore local reefs. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

“Restoring the coral reefs of the Florida Keys is so large of a challenge that it often feels as though we are unable, as individuals, to make a difference,” said Sarah Fangman, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary superintendent. “But Mike has proven otherwise, and I hope this recognition inspires others to join him, beginning with a vote that could bring $100,000 to the coral restoration effort in the Keys.” 

“This is a huge honor,” Smith said. Both Smith and Goldberg emphasized that the credit should be shared with the entire I.CARE team and the Keys community as a whole. The former added, “And we wouldn’t be here without the support of our community. … It has been a team effort, and I am so proud of our team of interns, staff, sponsors, and, of course, recreational divers that have helped put I.CARE on (this) stage.”

“This money will help fund our expansion,” Goldberg told the Weekly. “Specifically, we want every recreational diver that visits the Keys to have the opportunity to become a citizen scientist – to become educated on the history of our reef and the science behind the coral we are planting and to go underwater and plant coral.”

CNN applauded I.CARE for this unique public-private model: recruiting “an army of recreational divers to help heal our oceans by transplanting coral and restoring our dying reefs.” 

The ecotourism model is also a scalable, replicable model that can be used around the world, said Patxi Pastor, founder and CEO of Celebration of the Seas Foundation, which works with I.CARE to share ocean expertise around the world. 

So, what does the public need to do now to help get Goldberg over the finish line and much-needed funding to our reefs? 


People can cast up to 10 votes per day at cnnheroes.com through Tuesday, Dec. 5.

On Sunday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m. EST, Goldberg and the other Top 10 Heroes will be honored by CNN during a live All-Star Tribute program hosted by Anderson Cooper. The 2023 Hero of the Year will be announced during that show.

“Mike is relentless in his efforts to restore our fragile coral reef ecosystem and a true champion of the Florida Keys,” said Monroe County Mayor Holly Merrill Raschein, offering her support. “His recognition by CNN showcases the plight of our coral reefs and how important they are to the entire world. Join me in voting for Mike and let’s help him receive even more support to reestablish and repopulate our coral reef ecosystem for all to enjoy for years and years to come.”