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"Talking Science" in April 2020 with the Coral Chronicles


Like organizations across the world, CRF™ has spent the past few weeks responding to the COVID-19 crisis. As of last week, we closed our Exploration Center and cancelled all public dive programs for the following two weeks. The majority of our staff and interns are working from home during this time.

So, what does “working from home” look like for an organization of scuba divers? Here in the science department, we’ve (temporarily) hung up our dive gear and will be using this time to analyze photomosaics, compile our monitoring data, and prepare for the next round of CRF™ interns. Despite being high and dry, it seems we’re as busy as ever!

Our dive team, however, is still getting out on the water. They're outplanting corals, taking photos for our photomosaics, and maintaining our Coral Nurseries!

Interns Sabine and Nik meet virtually to discuss science updates.

© Nik Varley/Coral Restoration Foundation™

“Alex, our Special Projects Manager, has taken all of our hard drives home and is working on photomosaics, so we won’t miss a beat with monitoring” said Science Program Intern Sabine Bailey. “I’m personally finishing up an online course for new interns that goes over the basic skills they’ll need to work with us in the water.”

The dives we do at CRF™ are technical working dives, and can get pretty complicated - especially dives organized by the science program. The learning curve can be a bit steep for new interns, so we’re hoping that this online training will give them a solid sense of what the work will be like before they arrive. That way, they can hit the ground running.

CRF™ staff outplant on Florida Reef Tract. © Jessica Levy/Coral Restoration Foundation™

A portion of our staff are still running essential dives while the rest of CRF™ works from home. They recently completed a new photomosaic at a future Carysfort Reef work site, and monitored outplants at North Dry Rocks and Grecian Rocks last week.

And of course, there’s enough monitoring data to see the science program through this quarantine period and then some. While we’re on land, we’ll be analyzing, interpreting, and visualizing this data to get a more refined picture of how our corals did last year and the impact of changes in our restoration strategy.

Total number of coral outplants by species from 2013-2019. This visualization is a work in progress. © Coral Restoration Foundation™

So, even though most of the science team's diving has been sad attempts in the bathtub, we’re still hard at work accomplishing our goals in the science program. And we’ll pick up right where we left off when we return to normal operations. In the meantime, we’re urging the entire community to stay safe, stay healthy, and stay indoors!

Looking for fun, educational activities to do with the kids while inside? Continue reading to learn about our online activity packs which are adaptable for students K-12!



Last month, we received nine new pillar coral colonies from our collaborators at the Florida Aquarium! We now have 93 individual corals in our nursery, representing 29 distinct genotypes. These corals are extremely threatened in the Florida Keys, and CRF™ is part of a Florida-wide effort to preserve and protect them by any means possible.

CRF™ Science Team attaches pillar corals to Coral Tree.

© Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™

The corals arrived at our Exploration Center at 8am, one of the last stops on an overnight “pillar coral shuttle” distributing colonies to facilities around South Florida. The nine corals we received are in our Tavernier Coral Nursery’s genetic bank, their first in-water home after living in Florida Aquarium’s carefully maintained tanks.

Pillar coral colonies on arrival at the Exploration Center.

© Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™

Because these new corals are much larger than our other colonies, we installed an extra-sturdy boulder Coral Tree to support them in the genetic bank. Reinforced with double-thick mesh branches, this tree will be the pillars' new home as they continue alongside their new neighbors on the adjacent trees.

CRF™ Science Team installs new Coral Tree into our Coral Nursery.

© Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™

“Being part of the process of bringing these new pillar frags to our nursery was invigorating,” said CRF™ Intern Krista LaForest, who has been working heavily with our pillar corals over the past few months. “Installing a new tree for nine large fragments of a decimated species at first seems like a small step, but it represents the first stage of a monumental project that will occur over the next few decades!”

In the coming months, we’ll be carefully monitoring these corals and taking steps to keep their tree clear of algae and pests. They may also make an appearance in the Pillar Coral Imaging Project, our ongoing exploration of the best way to measure a coral’s growth on a coral tree.

CRF™ Science Team preps pillar corals. © Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™

Overall, we are thrilled to see our stock of pillar corals growing, and we fully expect our newest additions to be as successful as our other colonies. We’d like to thank our collaborators at Florida Aquarium, Nova Southeastern University, Mote Marine Lab and Keys Marine for their help in making this transfer possible and for all of their hard work protecting pillar corals in the Keys.

You can read more about our ongoing pillar coral restoration efforts here.



Looking for fun, educational activities to do at home with your student? CRF™ has a series of educational packs available on our website for students of all ages to learn about coral and marine science while having hands-on fun!

Elkhorn coral up close. © Alex Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™

And this week, we're featuring Sibilating Scleractinia.

This interdisciplinary activity encourages students to think about what coral reefs are made of, and how long coral reefs have been on our planet. It has the ability to have a longterm impact on both corals and ocean stewardship at large, giving students an understanding of this organism and a chance to help save our reefs!

This activity pack can be adapted to a single day or longer, with the inclusion of art, math, and language art extensions. And as with all of our activity packs, you can adjust Sibilating Scleractinia for students K-12!

Click here to access the activity pack. All you have to do is enter your basic contact information, and you’ll be immediately directed to download this activity pack.

Item checklist:

  • Piece of limestone

  • Shell

  • 2 rocks that are not limestone

  • Piece of chalk

  • Other common object (pencil e.g.)

  • Specimen dish for each object

Click here to access a complete list of CRF™ activity packs.


"Talking Science" Editorial Intern

Nik is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, where he studied English and environmental science. He grew up in Virginia, and first learned to dive on a family trip to the US Virgin Islands in 2011. During college, he travelled to Bocas Del Toro, Panama to study ocean acidification with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Nik is very happy to be contributing to the Coral Restoration Foundation™’s important work, and hopes to make a positive impact on the Keys’ marine communities both on land and in the water.

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