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How Mote Marine Lab is Forever Changing Coral Restoration

We love to share the stories of our planet’s caretakers: watchdogs of the waves, woods, and wildlife. The focus of our May catalog: Mote Marine Laboratory.

Consider them the full-time adoptive parents to more than 31,000 coral specimens, all housed at their field station in the Florida Keys.

“There’s no book on this,” laughs staff biologist Joey Mandara of raising the next generation of the region’s fast-disappearing coral.

Joey and team are (figuratively) writing it. On the sun-soaked morning we meet, he and his crew are quickly shuffling through aisles of outdoor tanks filled with fledgling coral. They rely upon groundbreaking, and often unconventional, techniques developed by Mote’s Program Manager of Coral Reef Restoration Dr. David Vaughan to mature specimens up to 8 times faster than nature can. Vaughan was the first to apply revolutionary microfragmentation processes to large-scale restoration, forever changing the world of coral conservation.

Today, crew members hover over tanks, hands submerged, headphones on. Coral polyp parenthood is a painstaking process. The Mote team meticulously removes debris and notes water temperature, salinity, and PH on over-stacked clipboards. Once a year, they even work as matchmakers for successful coral mating.

As fragments mature, Mote outplants them to reefs rooted in the Keys’ crystal blue waters. There, they assume their vital role in the ocean ecosystem, serving as a habitat for marine life and a natural barrier against hurricane tides. The entire rearing process can take up to 5 years, but according to Joey, it’s never too hard to say goodbye.

“It’s a cool experience to plant something that will be here long after you’re gone,” he says. Considering many coral species boast lifespans of well over 1,000 years, we’d say they’re raising them right.

Pick up a copy of our May catalog to see even more from our week out
in the Keys with the Mote team and learn more about their mission here.

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