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"Diving In" to February with the Coral Chronicles


In March of 2020, as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and an effort to keep our team and volunteers safe, we paused our volunteer program. In April 2022 we were ecstatic to reopen the program for the Upper Keys, and with the ongoing expansion of our Key West branch, the program is now open to volunteers in the Lower Keys!

All volunteers can come diving with CRF™ for free and be trained to the level of our staff. Upon completing training volunteers are part of our Coral Crew, ready to pitch in wherever necessary from caring for the corals in our nurseries to returning them to the wild alongside us! Volunteers play a vital role in our mission. They are passionate, dedicated members of the community that invest their time and energy into our organization. All of them are valued members of our Coral Crew, eager to give back to the reefs they love!

Our first Key West volunteer training charter of the year went to our Key West Coral Tree™ Nursery on February 3rd. This was not an average training boat, but an intense day of 4 dives, knocking out the full nursery training itinerary! During nursery training we teach our volunteers nursery navigation, cleaning Coral Trees™, installing new Coral Trees™, and hanging corals in Tree™ branches, a task our team calls “filling”.

Our two volunteer trainees, Justin and Miguel were trained by their Coral Crew, Dive Training Associate Megan Fryer, Key West Reef Restoration Intern Stephen Jellec, and Dive Program Intern Haley Evans. The group descended for their first dive, and the water was sky blue, visibility about 50 ft, and fish were swimming all throughout the forest of Coral Trees™.

Volunteer Justin stands beside CRF™ Dive Training Associate Megan before their first dive in the CRF™ Key West Nursery. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™

On Dive #1 the volunteers were tasked with navigating to three randomly chosen Trees™ then back to the original boat mooring pin. This task helps divers learn to navigate and ensures that even on a low visibility day they will be able to find their way back to the boat. All CRF™ nurseries are built in a grid, each Tree™ tagged with a letter and number corresponding to a row and column. Understanding the grid system is crucial to finding your way, especially in our larger nurseries that hold up to 500 Trees™! Justin and Miguel, though, have extensive navigation experience and found their Trees™ with ease, passing the navigation test with flying colors and even spotting a drum, orange filefish, giant hermit crab, and a huge school of silversides on the route!

The CRF™ Coral Tree™ Nurseries are all built on a grid system to ensure navigation is easy! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™

Dive #2 focused on Tree™ cleaning and on Dive #3 they installed Coral Trees™. Installation is mostly dependent on knot tying ability. CRF™ almost exclusively uses the taught-line hitch, or the 'hamburger knot' as the teams refers to it. This tends to be the biggest challenge for those learning Tree™ instillation. The knot must be tied six times, to install one tree. After a couple tries our volunteers successfully secured the new Trees™ in the water column ready to be filled with coral fragments.

CRF™ volunteers are trained to the level of our staff. Knot-tying is one of the many skills they learn! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™

Dive #4 was a “frag and fill”. Which is what our team calls fragmenting pieces of coral to then hang in a Coral Tree™. Stephen and Megan used loppers to fragment elkhorn corals down from the size of a rotisserie-chicken into more manageable chicken nuggets. In case you didn’t already know, fragmentation is a natural part of branching corals life cycles. CRF™ and the rest of the restoration community has been able to utilize this feature of corals to increase populations, increase growth rate, and restore reefs! It took all 5 divers a full hour to fill two Coral Trees ™ with newly made corals. Once on the boat they headed back to the dock for a much-needed evening of rest!

A CRF™ diver fragments elkhorn corals to be placed in a Coral Tree™ ©Coral Restoration Foundation™

We are thrilled to have 2 more Key West volunteers working with us in the water and cannot wait for more people to join our mission! So far we’ve got 5 active volunteers in Key West joining our ranks of 82 in total! We know everyone who volunteers with us is motivated by their passion for coral reefs and ocean health, free dive days with the CRF™ Coral Crew are just a bonus! If you are interested in volunteering visit our website and apply! We would love to have you!



Once volunteers have finished their nursery training, they have two steps left in the training process: outplanting and workboat training. Weather is a major impediment to coral outplanting. Outplanting endangered corals is highly detailed and skilled work, remember you’re working with a living animal on the endangered species list! It requires the right field conditions to complete safely and effectively. That means minimal surge, current, and wave action.

Volunteers train to reach the level of CRF™ staff! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™

Workboat training, however, can be done on just about any day because the team can take the boat into protected waters, like Largo Sound! This is exactly what Megan, our Dive Training Associate, did for this month’s workboat training. With the help of Dive Program Intern, Haley, Megan took the team of volunteers to Largo Sound to learn how to drive CRF™ boats, moor, anchor, and practice man-overboard procedures.

These are the basic skills needed to be an effective boat mate. Some of our volunteers have experience with boats, and even own boats themselves, while others have never been on a small vessel. The diversity in experience comes in handy, as volunteers help each other learn, and even teach our staff and interns different tips and techniques. This is what Haley has to say about working with volunteers:

“Our volunteers are so fun to work with. They come from different states, countries, and all different backgrounds. It’s inspiring to work with people who volunteer so much effort into our mission, many of them driving hours to dive with us. Every day on a volunteer boat is filled with laughter and fun. I have learned so much from them, and I hope they can say the same. They contribute significantly to our restoration efforts.”

Our volunteer program has been in effect since our inception in 2007, and we hope to continue expanding the program. We currently have 82 active volunteers, and we also offer land volunteer opportunities if the water isn’t your thing! If you are interested in volunteering visit our website and apply! We would love to have you!


"Diving In" Editorial Intern

Haley was born and raised in the Bay area in California, educated at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is now embarking on her next adventure in the Florida Keys. An Environmental Studies major with a Biology minor, Haley loves being face-to-face with the natural world. Animals being her biggest passion, she loves having up close experiences with the underwater world. Haley obtained her Divemaster training in Belize where she got to experience beautiful diving, but also heard stories about pristine reefs bustling with life, which have vanished. She has made it her mission to work for an organization that shares the goal of restoring and protecting the ocean. Working with CRF and incorporating diving, connecting with the community, and environmental restoration has been the adventure of a lifetime for Haley.

Coral Chronicles Editor

Madalen Howard (she/her) is CRF's Communications and Outreach Coordinator. She comes to CRF™ via a winding road from the Tennessee hills, to the South Carolina low country, ending here in Florida’s Coral Reef. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Marine Biology and a Minor in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston in 2016. Her experience ranges from field research to education, marketing and digital communications.

With CRF™ Madalen creates inclusive pathways to scientific discovery through content creation and by building and fostering relationships with press, digital media creators, and local community members. Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature, and is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration. .

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