Environmentalists often refer to Ken Nedimyer as the “coral whisperer”. It is a remark made in jest but a title he has earned.
Nedimyer, president of the Coral Restoration Foundation, has developed a simple technique for replanting staghorn and elkhorn coral, both of which are endangered species.
“I'm excited to see all these other people interested in it,” he said. “I'm excited to see scientists watching me and asking questions and giving me some respect.”
The technique, which has led to what is thought to be the world's largest underwater coral nursery, involves growing shards of coral on the seabed, hanging from man-made coral “trees” and planted on top of underwater concrete blocks.
The coral that is brought to these nurseries will eventually be transplanted to deeper waters in an effort to restore reefs that have been bleached, polluted or damaged.
Degraded or gone
According to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, around one-fourth of the world's reefs are already gone or are severely damaged another one-third are degraded and threatened.
“Most of the time, when you're working in conservation in the marine environment, you're talking about the bad things that are happening," said Jim Byrne from the Nature Conservancy, one of the partners involved in the restoration project.
“But we're getting corals out there and we're actually growing these corals and putting new ones out on the reef and really giving them a great chance to survive."
It is hoped that the restoration project in the Florida Keys will eventually plant 40,000 corals over the next five years, and it's not just scientists and environmentalists that Nedimyer hopes will be the driving force behind the project.
“There's millions and millions of divers out there with nothing to do,” joked Nedimyer.
“So, we're trying to give them a worthwhile project and we’ve run into a lot of exciting people, and the more we train, the more likely it is to succeed.”
The project is slowly gaining global attention, and for good reason.
Coral reefs provide essential habitat for marine life, protect the world's coastal areas from storms and erosion, as well providing an income to fishing communities and those involved in tourism.
“I'm surprised it has taken so long for other people to come on board and realise that this works,” said Nedimyer, whose non-profit group has also launched an “adopt-a-coral" scheme to help bring attention to their efforts.
Nedimyer’s simple message, that local communities should not wait for governments and scientists to help them out, may be the key to the program’s success.
Members of the restoration project in Florida have already been invited to the Caribbean - another region that has lost many of its reefs - to pass on their knowledge and experience.
But, in the end, it may be down to individuals like Nedimyer, whose knowledge, dedication and passion may ensure the world's coral reefs flourish once again.