ATLANTA (July 18, 2016) - Georgia Aquarium staff members recently traveled to the Florida Keys for a coral research and conservation trip in collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). Kim Stone, curator of fish and invertebrates at Georgia Aquarium; Jeff Reid, senior director of dive safety operations at Georgia Aquarium; Chris Duncan, senior diver at Georgia Aquarium; Kelly Link, senior aquarist; and Reggie Jones, aquarist II worked with CRF in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystems on earth, providing shelter to thousands of animal species. Since 1970, there has a been a 98 percent loss of staghorn and elkhorn coral. Georgia Aquarium staff have dedicated thousands of field and laboratory hours to help give corals a chance not only to survive, but to thrive in a challenging and changing environment.

Kim Stone, associate curator of fish and invertebrates at Georgia Aquarium, has been working with the Coral Restoration Foundation project since 2010 and has 20 years of experience working in public aquariums and has been doing coral research for about 10 years.

“This particular project is a great project for us to be a part of since it is semi-local. It’s great to work on reefs that are right in our backyard down in Florida and give back to the environment,” said Stone.

This recent trip was the first trip of the 2016-2017 year made possible with a generous grant from The UPS Foundation. The focus of the trip was to perform maintenance and a health assessment of the corals at Georgia Aquarium’s sponsored site, located on Molasses Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Team members also worked in CRF’s offshore nursery assisting with maintenance and prepping corals to be outplanted on to the reef. On this trip, 500 corals of eight different genotypes were planted on to the Aquarium’s sponsored site on the reef.

The CRF nursery has developed over the years to best meet the needs of the coral and ensure their survival. The nursery currently uses a coral tree method. These versatile coral trees are anchored into the sand and can hang up to 100 to 150 coral frags, or pieces, per tree. This method allows for the corals to be adjusted if a storm is approaching. The trees can be raised or lowered in the water column to protect the corals and get them out of the way of a cold current in the water.

Another goal of the trip was to map the 500 corals that were planted at Georgia Aquarium’s site on Molasses Reef and compile this data with a map that was completed on a previous trip in conjunction with the Florida Aquarium.

 “I still see corals that we planted back in 2011. It’s always awesome for me to go down and see the growth and the pieces that are doing really well and are extremely healthy,” said Stone. “You’re seeing really beautiful things with that so you know it’s having a good, positive impact and working. We see efforts from years ago still holding strong and hope that the new corals put out will do just the same.”

This year’s trip also marked a huge milestone with the technology that was used. It was the first time that divers used the Poseidon closed-circuit rebreather dive technology. The rebreathers allowed divers to be more efficient when working underwater and complete twice the amount of work in half the time. Rebreathers also do not produce bubbles in the water like open-circuit dive equipment, leading to sea life coming closer to the divers.

Georgia Aquarium staff members will return to Florida next month for coral spawning, a synchronized event when coral polyps release a bundle of egg and sperm into the water that provides new corals to the current population.

There are several ways to help protect coral reefs:

  • Plan a trip to Florida and learn more about coral reefs by going on a glass bottom boat, or taking a snorkel or dive excursion – you might see CRF volunteers working on the reefs!
  • Volunteer with the Coral Restoration Foundation. Land-based and dive volunteer opportunities are available.
  • Recycle and use reusable bags when possible.
  • Be responsible when on vacation. Research where you are going and the animals popular in the area that there might be laws about, such as light restrictions during sea turtle nesting season.
  • Practice sustainable fishing practices to help protect the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
  • Visit Georgia Aquarium and the Tropical Diver gallery to learn more about coral reefs and the work Georgia Aquarium is doing in Atlanta, as well as in the field.

To learn more about Georgia Aquarium’s coral reef research and conservation efforts and updates on future trips, visit www.georgiaaquariumblog.com.

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ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM

Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that contains more than 10 million gallons of water and has the largest collection of aquatic animals. Georgia Aquarium’s mission is to be a scientific institution that entertains and educates, features exhibits and programs of the highest standards, and offers engaging and exciting guest experiences that promote the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.