“That was just incredible!” gushes Maria Gomez, a volunteer diver from Medellin, Colombia. We’ve just surfaced from a coral outplanting dive at Pickles Reef in Key Largo, Florida. Maria and I successfully put 10 endangered staghorn corals back onto the reef. The other dive teams on our boat also restore 10 corals each. High fives are heard as we announce our totals: 40 corals restored for the day. “It feels great to use your best hobby for a good purpose, doesn’t it?” adds Maria.

Our boat glides along the turquoise blue water back towards land, and Kyle Krause, a local 17-year-old tells me, “It was a new view of things. Really cool.” He’s right. It’s not every day we get to touch an endangered species, let alone act to help increase its chances of long-term survival in the wild.

Maria and Kyle are just two of many divers from around the world who come to the Florida Keys looking to scuba dive but also looking to do more with their time underwater. They join us at the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) on one of our dive programmes to figure out what that “more” might mean to them.

Left: Volunteer divers assist CRF staff Right: Structures known as “coral trees” help grow corals two or three times faster (Photos by Alexander Neufeld of Coral Restoration Foundation)

These programmes – unique, one-day dive experiences – transform interested citizens into coral restoration warriors and ocean stewards helping to restore the imperiled Florida Reef Tract. The morning starts with an information session and hands-on training. We CRF staff and interns show a series of pictures of iconic Carysfort Reef, once revered as the jewel of the Caribbean and it begins to sink in: Our reefs are in danger. There’s just one to two percent of the historical cover of staghorn and elkhorn corals left. But why? There’s discussion of all the local and global factors contributing to this coral crisis, from agricultural runoff to irresponsible boaters and divers to global warming.

To read the rest of this article, check out our latest issue of Scuba Diver Issue 2/2019, Volume 115  here or download a digital copy here.

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