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Noah’s Ark

A series of images have been placed under water near Key West, while in the same area, scientists are racing against time in operation “Noah’s Ark” to save our nation’s only coral reef from extinction.

About 7 miles south of Key West, at the southernmost tip of the U.S., divers recently placed 24 large photo illustrations by Andreas Franke, an Austrian artist, to draw attention to the need to eliminate plastics in oceans around the globe.

The art was placed on the Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a ship once used by the Air Force for missile tracking. It was intentionally scuttled a decade ago to become an artificial reef. So, scuba divers can now enjoy a very unique art display while examining the 525-foot Vandenberg in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

That said, it’s more likely divers and tourists from around the world are primarily drawn by the beauty of the coral reefs in this marine sanctuary. So, what’s newsworthy today is the effort to save those corals from a mysterious killer disease that is devastating miles of the Florida Reef Tract, according to Adriana Brasileiro’s recent reports in the Miami Herald.

The reporter was dockside observing as scientists from Nova Southeastern University unloaded crates of coral from a dive boat. Since first spotted in 2014, an unknown disease is killing these coral colonies already weakened by bleaching and acidification. Volunteers carefully placed 341 corals taken from disease-free reefs in special holding tanks. “It’s a herculean effort,” said Richard Dodge, dean of NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, “but we must do everything we can to help coral survive.”

NSU is one of seven research facilities participating in a program under the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration that temporarily houses and collects data on the coral species. Eventually, the corals are sent to other universities and zoos around the country where they will grow new colonies that become the seed-stock for future reef restoration needs.

Sadly, we can so easily overlook the problems facing our coral reefs. But an eye-opening fact is that over half of the known corals in the world’s oceans have totally disappeared over the past 250 years.

The challenge to survival of Florida’s reefs is now immense, reports Brasileiro. Unlike other efforts being undertaken that focus on the endangered large branching staghorn and elkhorn corals, this program targets species that are more susceptible to the disease and die faster, as well as those with a higher coral-building capacity that could speed restoration.

Whether you’re a marine dealer in Florida or elsewhere, the importance of Florida’s reefs cannot be overstated. They have a major positive economic impact on boat sales and rentals, and as tourist destinations, they draw divers from around the globe. They are fertile fishing areas and critical habitats for hundreds of species of fish, crabs, lobsters and more. Moreover, the reefs are buffers of coastal areas from storms.

We cannot afford to lose our reefs. In the case of the NSU program, they acknowledge that they’re racing against time and fighting a disease they don’t know enough about, yet. Hopefully, that knowledge will come. In the meantime, the work of “Noah’s Ark” at NSU and others could make it possible to restore some of the colonies in the future.

So, as we mark the mid-point of our traditional boating season on Thursday, July 4, it’s also a good time to reflect on this effort that deserves our recognition and thanks.

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