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Doc Boilini Helps Corals and Communities Grow Together

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Our donors offer Coral Restoration Foundation™ the resources needed to restore coral reefs. This is why we are thrilled to announce a new donor spotlight series, REEFeature. Dr. James Boilini, a beloved community leader, CRF™ board member, and monthly donor joins us to share his most cherished memories with CRF™.

“You’ve got to keep trying. It does no good to do nothing. It does some good to do something. I’m just not a do-nothing guy.”

Dr. James Boilini, known affectionately as Doc, moved to the Keys from Indiana in 1975. Snorkeling and diving ignited Doc’s passion for coral reefs. He recalls some of his early memories of his move to Key Largo. “Just back in those days, I was locked in. I was sold. I wasn’t going to leave. It got me from the get-go. I’d honestly say, the first ten years of my life [in the Keys], I probably snorkeled or dove three to four times a week.”

Doctor James Boilini at his optometry practice in Key Largo, FL.


Now a well-established community member of 35 years, Doc has found his niche in Key Largo — giving back to the community. “When I was growing up, my parents were always doing something to help other people – [they] were always helping the community and that slid off to me and the rest of my family.”

Honoring his family’s core values, Doc fills many roles in the Florida Keys. Though his primary profession is an optometrist, he also owns Doc’s Diner, serves as president of Jacob’s Aquatic Center, is a member and past president of the Monroe County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, and was a founding member for both the Monroe County Educational Foundation and the Take Stock in Children educational program.

We may be a little biased, but our favorite hat worn by Doc is that of three-term Coral Restoration Foundation™ Board Member and 13 year donor.

Supporting the Keys community and embracing the true "conch" lifestyle go hand in hand! In his spare time Doc Boilini loves to be on the ocean!


Though Doc found reefs beautiful he never could have predicted the impact Coral Restoration Foundation™ would have on his life, and for the world. Doc had a eureka moment while snorkeling through our Tavernier nursery. He came across a school of what he thought were jellyfish. Upon closer inspection, he realized they were actually hundreds of schooling squid!

Doc and the squid glided over the nursery together, admiring the corals below. “I looked down and said, ‘You know why [the squid] are here? They are here because of the coral [nursery].’ Because if I went 20 yards over where there were no trees and it was like a desert on the bottom, those squid would no sooner swim over that. They were all swimming over the [nursery], back and forth, back and forth.” This moment solidified Doc's support of coral restoration.

“That [trip to the coral nursery] made an impression on me. These animals know what’s better. You know, the reef is like the backbone of the ocean and they know that, and they like being around other fish and other aquatic life…It was a magic moment.”

Doc Boilini visited Carysfort Reef (above) and saw the positive impact coral restoration has for the reef ecosystem and local community as a whole. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™


Doc has witnessed firsthand the drastic changes coral reefs have undergone. He describes the 70s and 80s as a “fantasy land” full of barracuda, sharks, and fish highways. When thinking of the decline of our reefs, he points to the 90s as a turning point for reef health. From ships running aground on top of reefs to major bleaching episodes, Doc acknowledged a troubling trend.

“Admittedly, the reefs aren’t what they were years ago,” he states, “but I think through the efforts of CRF™, they’re getting better. And I think we are making a difference, and there’s hope. We just keep on the fight, that’s all.

While snorkeling, Doc noticed that sea life gravitates to areas of restored reef and coral nurseries. “When you go to a place like Carysfort or the nursery off of Tavernier and you look at the biodiversity there, you think to yourself, ‘Holy mackerel! [Restoration] makes a difference!’…There’s more fish here. There’s more diversity of fish than in any place that I’ve seen in a long time. Just because you planted coral, and the coral is growing there. It’s such a pleasure to see that happen!”

Doc understands the importance of coral restoration. “Some people say to me, ‘Don’t you think it’s too late?’ And I go, ‘No. It’s not too late. What are you going to do? Sit around and do nothing?” Though Florida’s Coral Reef has experienced decline, Doc believes that the reef is the “barometer of our overall planet health” and an invaluable resource worthy of saving. From protecting coastlines to bolstering the economy of the Florida Keys, he reminds us that while there are other reefs in the world, very few are as accessible to US citizens as those here on Florida’s Coral Reef.

Before and after showing one of our restoration sites known as Elkhorn Rock. Just three years separate these photos. ©Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™


For Doc, the results speak for themselves. He feels that CRF™ has never strayed away from our mission of making the ocean a healthier place. When asked why Doc continues to support us as a monthly donor, his answer came easily: “I don’t anticipate ever the day where I don’t try to do something to help CRF™...There are a lot of people here you can really depend on…Coral Restoration [Foundation™] is one of those things that people can depend on. We’re not going away. I can’t imagine going away.” Doc believes leading by example is the way to make things happen.

My basic tenet in life is just leave the place a little better. Just do what you can. Just do what you can to make it better. Even if it’s a small part, small parts become large parts. You just do what you can to make it better. You never go wrong doing the right thing.”

With a wife of four decades, two successful daughters working in the Keys, and a presence that looms large in the community, Doc is proud of his accomplishments and philanthropic involvement. From sharing his Italian heritage through food at Doc’s Diner to walking-the-walk when it comes to inspiring change for our reefs, Doc has given his life almost entirely to the community, an accomplishment to be admired, and we at CRF™ sincerely appreciate his continued support.



Madalen Howard is CRF's Marketing Associate. Madalen 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, and communications.

Madalen spent the last 4 years as a Field Instructor and Social Media Strategist for MarineLab Environmental Education Center. Here she was able to study and teach marine ecology, while snorkeling through mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs every day. While at MarineLab she combined her education and research background, entered the world of communications, and developed MarineLab’s social media department from the ground up.

Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature. With CRF™, she is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration, creating inclusive pathways to scientific discovery.

"REEFeature" Editorial Intern

Originally from Indiana, Maddy pursued her passion for the sciences at Boston University where she graduated with a B.A. in Ecology and Conservation Biology and a minor in Marine Science. Although she always had an interest in wildlife, her passion for conservation was cultivated by her experiences studying abroad in Latin America. From handling bats in Ecuador to studying the health of corals in Belize, Maddy fell in love with all aspects of field work and research. After graduating, she gained experience in environmental education while working as a marine naturalist in Hawaii and Washington state. While she enjoyed educating passengers aboard ecotourism vessels (and watching whales pretty much every day), she made it her goal to pursue a career that unites both research and education. Maddy is enthusiastic about transferring her attention to coral restoration and environmental outreach at CRF™. While on the team, she hopes to learn as much as she can about working for a nonprofit while also assisting in coral restoration efforts.

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