Young Aquanauts to the Rescue

Pieces of baby coral hang on PVC pipe structures until they are large enough to be transplanted.
Pieces of baby coral hang on PVC pipe structures until they are large enough to be transplanted. (Courtesy SCUBAnauts International)

“Naut” is an ancient Greek word that means “sailor,” and when attached to the end of another noun it means voyager. Today there are all types of nauts out there―astronauts, cosmonauts, aeronauts, etc.—but the original “naut” was a sea explorer, or an aquanaut. Ironically, though we have explored space, tiptoed into volcanoes, climbed the highest peaks and drilled deep into the earth, we have only explored five percent of the ocean.

An international youth group called the SCUBAnauts is doing its part to rectify this situation by focusing on the exploration and conservation of our oceans. SCUBAnauts international was founded in 2001 for young people to learn about and explore the ocean. Every summer, the SCUBAnauts work with Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida to build coral nurseries that help restore the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. Florida’s reefs are in very bad shape, so the work of the SCUBAnauts to help protect and restore Florida’s coral reefs is certainly welcome. According to a recent report, the average coral cover in the Caribbean (including the Florida Keys) has decreased by more than half from 1970 to 2012 (PDF).

A SCUBAnaut "plants" corals on hard substrates.
(Courtesy SCUBAnauts International)

The SCUBAnauts have helped Mote grow and transplant threatened coral species, specifically elkhorn and staghorn corals. They hang baby corals underwater on large tree-like structures made of PVC pipes. The corals can then grow to a size big enough to survive being transplanted onto the reef, which takes about six to nine months. Once they are big enough, they are glued to reefs with an underwater adhesive. It’s important that the reefs that receive the new transplants are themselves protected from pollution and overfishing, otherwise the transplants will likely die just like the corals that were there before them. Mote reported that the newly planted staghorn corals have spawned in the wild, which means that these corals have the ability to reproduce on their own. Hopefully, with this ability, they will create new coral colonies throughout the Florida Keys.

Healthy reefs are extremely important to both Florida’s economy and the thousands of species that depend on the food and shelter they provide. As of last summer, Mote grew 250,000 coral fragments from 15,000 different coral colonies in their underwater nurseries. The partnership between Mote and SCUBAnauts has created a successful coral restoration effort in addition to allowing young people to learn about the importance of ocean exploration and protection.

July 2015