Coming up next on Jonathan Bird's Blue World, Jonathan visits an underwater farm where they
Hi, I'm Jonathan Bird and welcome to my world!
Coral reefs are incredibly diverse marine habitats that are important to the health
of tropical ocean ecosystems.
Unfortunately, all over the world, coral reefs are being threatened.
Coral is very sensitive to temperature, and water quality.
In some places, the reefs are not looking very good.
In the Florida keys, several species of corals, particularly staghorn coral, which grows in
shallow water, have been hit hard by a combination of storms, disease and predators.
Ken Nedimyer is doing something about it. Ken is the founder of the Coral Restoration
Foundation in Key Largo, and he has figured out how farm staghorn coral.
Cameraman Tim and I grab a flight down to Key Largo to meet Ken and learn how his coral
We meet up with Ken on a sunny spring morning for a day of checking up on his underwater
I give him a hand putting his boat in the water.
Ken takes us less than a mile offshore to the secret location of his coral farm.
Ken: I thought it might be fun to pick up some corals, kind of show you what we do,
pull corals off the trees, tag them, and then bundle them, kinda the whole routine then
we’ll take them out and plant them on the reef…
I thought I was just going to observe, but clearly Ken has plans to try to get some useful
work out of me! In fact, he is always looking for volunteers to lend a hand.
We arrive on site and Ken ties up to his mooring. Next I get a briefing on what to expect underwater
and what I’ll be doing to help.
Ken’s weightbelt contains an unusual assortment of tools for a scuba diver.
Ken: In case we see sharks!
Next it’s time to suit up and hit the water!
The coral farm is only 25 feet deep, and it doesn’t look like any coral reef I have
ever seen. The coral is being grown on structures that Ken calls coral trees.
These grunts are already treating the coral trees like reefs!
Each coral tree has a bunch of small pieces of staghorn coral hanging off of it like Christmas
Over time, the corals get larger and larger, until they start to crowd each other.
What Ken and I are going to do, is thin out the large pieces.
Ken shows me the technique. Basically, he is snipping off pieces of coral with a pair
of wire cutters.
Next, it’s my turn, and it doesn’t feel right to be breaking coral. This goes against
everything I have ever been taught! But Ken assured me that it was OK for the coral on
But we aren’t going to throw away these coral cuttings. Next, Ken and I are tying
short sections of fishing line on all the pieces I cut off.
Then we start hanging the cuttings on a tree. Over the next year they will grow as large
as the pieces they were cut from!
A local trumpetfish comes in to inspect our work. And a resident grouper hides under one
of Ken’s experiments.
Finally, We harvest a dozen or so large pieces of staghorn coral and head back to the boat.
That is a very impressive operation. There is a lot of coral growing down there and it
seems really happy to be growing on those little coral trees. Very neat.
Back on the boat, I fill a tub with water.
This is the coral that we’re going to transplant.
You know you let them grow out, then you cut them off, and hang more up and let them grow
Ken: Everything out there started with…all the coral would have fit in this bucket.
Next we move the boat a few hundred yards to a reef where we will transplant the coral
we just harvested.
So this is a reef called Snapper ledge, and there’s a big ledge on it and there’s
lots of fish usually.
But there’s hardly any staghorn coral.
You know a lot of people ask why we roll backwards off the boat. And the answer is quite simple:
because if you roll forwards, you’re still in the boat.
It’s pretty amazing. I don't think many people get to do this. I’m going to be part
of making a new reef!
Down on the bottom, Ken leads me to a barren section of reef that could definitely use
some staghorn coral!
He starts by scraping off algae and marine growth to clear a section for the newly transplanted
Next he mixes up a putty-like glob of epoxy that can cure underwater.
Then he presses the staghorn coral into the epoxy. In a few hours it will be stuck permanently.
Now it’s my turn to try the same technique with the next piece. If I don’t scrape all
the way down to bare rock, then the epoxy won’t stick and the coral will most likely
Ken and I plant about a dozen pieces of staghorn together in an area about 4 feet across. It
takes about half an hour for the two of us to plant all the coral we brought down. And
when we’re done, the fish are already moving in to their new habitat.
This is a piece of staghorn coral that Ken planted a year ago. It has already grown over
the epoxy and into the reef. It’s doing well and growing quickly.
With our mission complete, we head back to the boat.
Thanks to the work of Ken Nedimyer, we now know that at least some species of coral can
be farmed and used to replant damaged reefs. While this technique doesn’t address the
threats to coral, it does provide a new method for restoring damaged reefs.