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"Bringing it Back"... Again in July 2020 with the Coral Chronicles

Updated: Jul 30, 2020


At Coral Restoration Foundation™, we've always believed that large scale, massive action is required to restore our coral reefs. Because of this, we have very close relationships with several organizations around the world. In early July, we were able to lend a helping hand to our friends at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) down in Key West.

About 10 years ago, TNC started a nursery in the Dry Tortugas to jump start restoration efforts in the area. Over time, their nursery has become home to around 15 genotypes, growing both on pedestals and on their 8 trees. While they look quite similar to the ones we use in our own nurseries, their trees host two genotypes each and can hold over 100 corals (50 per genotype).

TNC’s pedestal nursery grows their staghorn corals until they are big enough to be moved over to a tree. ©Ellen Hudson/Coral Restoration Foundation™

In the summertime, CRF™ restoration program interns are typically enlisted to lend a hand and help the TNC crew with various tasks in their nursery. Given the safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, it was unsure if specific goals could be accomplished this year. However, through the long and tireless work by TNC staff and the MV Makai crew, all proper precautions were taken in order to continue the work!

Ellen and Haley lived aboard the research vessel MV Makai for a week while working with TNC on the expansion of their nursery. ©Ellen Hudson/Coral Restoration Foundation™

The dive leads for the trip were TNC staff members Caitlin Lustic and Joseph Mandara, who were assisted by CRF™ Restoration Program Interns Haley Hurst and Ellen Hudson. For 6 days, divers stayed on the liveaboard boat MV Makai, near Fort Jefferson and the TNC nursery. Michael Kent and Curtis Hall from the National Park Service (NPS) at Fort Jefferson also joined the crew in the nursery to help install the anchors required for the new trees.

Top: Ellen snorkeling with floats above the nursery. The floats were attached to a line and pulled down one by one to be attached to the new coral trees. Bottom: Haley hanging newly-fragged corals onto one of the 10 new trees installed in the nursery. Right: Beautiful staghorn thicket outplants thriving on the reef surrounding TNC’s nursery. ©Ellen Hudson/Coral Restoration Foundation™

During the 6-day trip, the team was able to anchor and float 10 new trees, replace 3 older trees, and fragment pre-existing corals to fill the new trees as much as possible. The number of fragments in the nursery increased from just short of 1,000 to over 2,000! After finishing the nursery work with half a day to spare, our interns had the pleasure of joining the TNC crew on a dive to monitor their year-old outplants.

“This trip really highlighted how much CRF™ has taught me about being a successful, independent, and confident member of the team. And how important it is to love what you do. It’s great to know that CRF™ and the restoration staff believe in our skillsets enough to allow us to work with a huge organization like TNC. It was such an amazing experience," said Haley Hurst, CRF™ Restoration Program Intern.

Collaborations like these are valuable for the goals of all the organizations involved, and allows us to give our interns at CRF™ even more experience. Many coral restoration organizations in the Keys have similar practices, but these trips give our interns the opportunity to see various operating procedures and broaden their skillsets. Experiences such as these equip our interns with tools that they can use in future endeavors whether in academia or in the field.

One of the brand new coral trees installed during the week with a little squid friend checking out the work! ©Ellen Hudson/Coral Restoration Foundation™

Every team member did an incredible job, and we look forward to more trips in the future! All work was conducted under Permit # DRTO-2020-SCI-0013 issued to Caitlin Lustic.



The CRF™ Restoration Team is stronger than ever. It took a little bit of time to reintegrate our interns and see some favorable weather, but it's been worth the wait. This past month, we've been focusing on getting down to our Key West nursery and outplanting at Lower Keys sites as much as possible.

For the first time since February, our team was able to head to our Key West nursery and give it some much needed love. While we were there, we focused on cleaning Coral Trees, adding floats, and taking a full inventory of the corals. These tasks, while seemingly small, really are integral in maintaining a healthy nursery.

Keeping our Coral Trees clean reduces any competitors or bacteria that could prevent the corals from reaching their full growth potential. Floating the trees keeps them off the sandy seafloor and gives the corals the best water flow possible. Taking inventory tells us which trees are ready for harvesting and outplanting, and the severity of disease or bleaching on trees, if any.

Corals on their way to be outplanted onto some of our Southern reef sites. ©Lauren Zitzman/Coral Restoration Foundation™

With this nursery back in tip-top shape, we were able to turn our focus to our Lower Keys outplanting sites. The great part about having a full nursery inventory is that we know which genotypes are ready to outplant, so we collected fragments of those same genotypes and transported them to our Lower Keys sites.

In the first few weeks of July, we outplanted 2,396 individual corals across 4 reef sites: Eastern Dry Rocks, Marker 32, Newfound Harbor, and Sombrero. This total breaks down into 1,791 staghorn, 304 elkhorn, 188 mountainous star, and 113 boulder star. Because of our team's incredibly hard work, we were able to complete our staghorn outplant numbers for all of our Lower Keys restoration sites, allowing us to focus on completing our elkhorn goals for the year.

CRF™ Restoration Associate, Nikkie, outplants staghorn corals at Sombrero Reef. ©Shane Gallimore/Coral Restoration Foundation™

This is a really exciting accomplishment for our team given the setbacks we experienced earlier this year. And as much as it’s been a team effort, we couldn’t have gotten this done without the help of our local dive shops, specifically Fury Key West Watersports (who donated the use of their vessel) and Finz Dive Center in the Lower Keys. We really rely on our dive shop allies, especially in this difficult time! It’s incredible to see our local community so dedicated to helping restore our coral reefs.

While we may have faced challenges due to COVID-19, our team has adapted to necessary changes and continues to work as one to achieve our goals. We greatly appreciate all of the support we've received from those who continue to donate and share our message with their community. Every bit of support helps us restore our reefs for future generations.


"Bringing It Back" Editorial Team

Ellen graduated with a B.S. in Marine Science and a minor in Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior from Rutgers University in 2017. Growing up in New Jersey, her summers were largely spent boogie-boarding and building sand castles at the Jersey shore. It was her first Discover Scuba in Bermuda at the age of 13, however, that sparked her passion for coral reefs and diving. During her undergrad at Rutgers she took part in a study abroad program in Little Cayman, where she monitored the bleaching severity of corals around the island and had her first coral nursery and outplanting experience. It was here that she learned about Coral Restoration Foundation™, and it quickly became her dream to be a part of the CRF™ team.  Recently, she completed her divemaster certification and is absolutely ecstatic about joining the CRF™ team in beautiful Key Largo.  She is excited to do her part to restore this amazing ecosystem and hopes to inspire others to protect and conserve it for generations to come.

Haley recently graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with her Bachelors in Marine Biology. Haley grew up in Yuba City, California, a small agricultural community. Even though she didn’t have many experiences at the ocean growing up, she always knew it was something worth protecting and discovering. Going to college near the beautiful California kelp forests, she couldn’t help but want to get into the ocean and begin diving. In her studies she was able to do research in the Mediterranean off of Corsica on invertebrate forging behavior. It was through her research that she discovered her love for conducting marine science. After graduating, she had the pleasure of visiting Saudi Arabia and was able to dive on the Red Sea reefs. This lead her to CRF™ to better understand coral restoration efforts and to fuel her curiosity of implementing science to restore our world’s oceans.

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