A TALE OF THREE DIVE PROGRAMS
Thursday September 8: Mock Dive Program with New First-Round Interns
To kick off the fall semester, Wylie Phillips, our new Dive Program Intern along with Roxane Boonstra, our Dive Training Administrator, trained our new interns by going on a “mock” dive program.
They started off in the Tavernier nursery for Dive 1. While the first-round interns learned how to clean the coral trees, Wylie and Roxane began harvesting the staghorn corals for outplanting. There was a really strong current, which made the task very challenging. Despite the current they were able to harvest 30 corals to bring to pickles reef!
Our interns were taught how to outplant and returned their very first corals to the wild! They all did an excellent job, maintaining their buoyancy and working together as a team to return all 30 corals to the reef. Wylie first learned to outplant back in January of this year, so being involved in the training of the next generation of CRF™ interns was a nice full circle moment.
Friday September 9: Dive Program
When rough seas prevent us from outplanting corals, dive program participants can still help our team in our coral nurseries.
Recently we had a program opt for two nursery dives instead of an outplanting dive. Two dives in the nursery meant that there was time to give the dive participants a tour of the nursery!
Wylie demonstrates coral restoration methods
on land before leading participants underwater!
©Coral Restoration Foundation™
There is nowhere else in the world where you can swim through a forest of coral as large as our Tavernier nursery which holds over 500 Coral Trees™ and covers over 1.5 acres of seafloor. Wylie led the tour, first taking them through the staghorn section, then the boulder, elkhorn, and finally, the genetic bank where all 1000+ genotypes across 20 species are housed.
Anyone can visit a CRF™ open ocean Coral Tree™ nursery during one of our Dive and Snorkel Programs! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Wylie was struck by just how much genotypic diversity we have in the nursery. She already knew that the nursery was more biodiverse than certain reefs, but every time Wylie has the opportunity to visit the genetic bank with all its huge extensive corals, she remembers that this has become a whole entire ecosystem teaming with life and serving as a refuge for large schools of gray snapper and yellowtails and cowfish and filefish and countless other species.
So many fish and invertebrates live in our coral nurseries! ©Coral Restoration Foundation/Alexander Neufeld
The group even spotted two long spiny sea urchins, an organism that is very rare to see these days. Along with cleaning the nursery, the dive participants had the opportunity to see all these amazing corals and the animals that gravitate to them.
Saturday September 10: Outplanting Training with First-Round Interns
After two long days of diving, Wylie was tired, but she was very excited to be teaching all eleven first-round interns how to outplant, with the guidance of Megan and Roxane our Dive Training staff members. As usual, they began in the nursery to harvest the reef-ready staghorn corals. It was a special day, however, because Wylie was going to learn how to use the loppers, which are essentially big cutters that are used to harvest really thick corals. It was a daunting task and Wylie initially struggled to cut through one of the branches. Once she figured out how to use leverage to her advantage, she realized that using loppers was actually really fun.
CRF™ uses "loppers" to fragment large, thick, corals in-situ. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™/Alexander Neufeld
One hundred harvested corals later and the group was off to Pickles Reef. Roxane, Megan and Wylie hopped in first, wanting to snorkel out to the restoration site so that they were sure they knew where it was. Along the way, they saw a nurse shark and moray eel! Then they headed back to the boat and hopped on board to brief the first-round interns. They were split up into five teams, one for each coral cluster, and worked together to outplant all 100 corals.
One of the teams had to outplant around a lizardfish that decided to plop down right in the middle of their cluster! One of our new interns, Stephen, said,
“I tried to pick him up with my fin to get him out of the cluster, but he wouldn’t move. He wasn’t going anywhere!”
It was really funny but also certainly a lesson that sometimes us restoration divers have to be flexible, because the reef isn’t, and neither are its many inhabitants! Another intern Marine recalled,
“There was a mantis shrimp in our cluster that kept on coming out of hiding to move our corals. Every time we found a place for a coral, the shrimp moved it somewhere else!”
Maybe it was just trying to help with the home renovations. Whatever the case, the interns had a great time returning some of their first corals back to the reef. One intern, Rebecca, said,
“It was so weird hammering into the reef, but it was really cool to be a part of the restoration and seeing all of the fish react to what we were doing!”
This reaction just goes to show the importance of proper training and practice in field restoration! To the laymen's eye it can appear as if our restoration divers are simply hammering away at the reef making it even more fragile and degraded but a trained diver knows that only a slim top layer of reef is being removed in order to secure the new corals that will continue to build up the reef structure for years!
If you or anyone you know is interested in training alongside our team to become a part of our Coral Crew, wether for a day or four months, please check out our Dive and Snorkel Programs schedule here: https://www.coralrestoration.org/dive-programs You can help us raise the reef too!
Fish return to restoration areas bringing color and life back to the reef! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
"Diving In" Editorial Intern
Wylie grew up in landlocked Pennsylvania, but after a few family trips to Grand Cayman as a kid, she instantly fell in love with the marine world. She remembers snorkeling and later trying to identify everything she had seen. When her granddad got certified to SCUBA dive at the age of 70, it inspired the entire family to follow in his footsteps. Wylie went on her first dive at 13. From that moment on, she realized that she wanted to dive for the rest of her life. In college, she double majored in Marine Estuarine and Freshwater Biology and Spanish at the University of New Hampshire. At 20, she was an intern at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman where she was introduced to coral monitoring. During the last two years of college, she dived in New England, acquiring her Rescue Diver and AAUS Scientific Diver Certifications as well as working with crabs, mussels and limpets. While she had come to love cold water diving, she realized that she missed coral and wanted to get involved with coral restoration. That said, she is beyond grateful for the opportunity to intern for Coral Restoration Foundation™.
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. .