Coral Reef Restoration in the Florida Keys – Advice Eating

Every Tuesday before Morgan goes to school, she grabs her lunch bag, water bottle, and snorkel gear. Since Tuesdays are field lab days, she spends most of her day on, near, or under the ocean. Your school that understands that the future of most students depends on the health of their marine environment. Morgan’s snorkeling strengthens her understanding of the nexus between environment and economy and the value of Florida’s Keys.

In the Florida Keys, a tourism-based economy means that approximately 60% of residents depend on the marine environment for their livelihood. That’s why United Way of Collier and the Keys drives innovative initiatives focused on building the health, education and financial stability of this community – including participation in coral reef restoration efforts.

siCoral reefs have been dying at an unprecedented rate since the 1970s, according to the NASA Earth Observatory. With the ecological decline of native corals, coastal communities face increasing risk to their economies and decreasing protection during hurricanes. For the Florida Keys, these risks impact the future of our community.

There is no doubt: unhealthy, depleted reefs will damage this community’s livelihood in the long run. In response, United Way is taking a holistic approach to the Keys’ economic and environmental sustainability. We are paving the way to economic sustainability with restoration by integrating educational benefits, global partnership prospects and the potential for “voluntourism” in a unique approach to revitalizing the Florida Keys. Find out more about our work on “Revitalizing the Florida Keys through Reef Restoration and Beyond.”

With this collaboration, the United Way is a spark for similar projects in other communities around the world – and with other local United Ways – to foster a deeper understanding of how the environment can affect quality of life and financial stability.

The Florida Keys are an island chain stretching 120 miles off the southern tip of Florida. They are surrounded by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), which helps protect local marine resources and their use. The reefs provide natural barriers from over $200 million worth of hurricanes and other storms. Healthy reefs yield harvests of fish and other sea catches, a critical source of food and income for recreational and commercial fisheries. Of course, the natural beauty of healthy reefs drives tourism.

To counteract the devastation of Key’s corals, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners have developed a 20-year plan called Mission: Iconic Reefs, a comprehensive approach to coral restoration at seven ecologically and culturally significant reef sites in Florida Keys National Marine Protected Area. The goal is to restore living coral coverage from the current 2% to an environmentally sustainable 25% on the only barrier reef in North America.

As a catalyst for Mission: Iconic Reefs, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made a US$3.5 million gift to the United Way of Collier and the Keys to support coral restoration and education efforts. The donation is part of a larger $10 million pledge to Florida in support of Hurricane Irma relief and recovery efforts. In partnership with NOAA, United Way will use a portion of the donation to support the innovation and invention techniques of nonprofit reef restoration organizations and local marine science education efforts.

The risks to the Florida Keys’ economy and infrastructure as a result of the decline in coral and associated marine life are real — and growing in severity. Interventions like this are an attempt at nimble but massive efforts to alter that devastating trajectory.

Coral transplants (a method whereby “baby” corals grown at a nearby “nursery” are permanently attached to bare spots on the reef), education, youth engagement, and economic work can all contribute to coral reef restoration in the United States Keys Changing Communities. To encourage opportunities for local, state or national reef restoration organizations (or “practitioners”) to apply their knowledge and research to coral planting, United Way will provide US$2.8 million of the UAE’s US$3.5 million donation invest in the form of match funding.

United Way has previously funded practitioners selected for their creative approach, visionary thinking and organizational approach. Because United Way is people-centric, we recognize that the community needs to have a voice in deciding which organizations are best compatible with the needs of the Florida Keys, and we built this into the decision-making process.

We also want to ensure that the next generation of community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs are invested in reef restoration work – albeit indirectly, through education and youth engagement:

  • United Way will invest $155,000 in scholarships to fund Florida Keys students planning to study marine science-related subjects at Florida universities. And $180,000 of the UAE donation will be given by United Way to schools and marine science educational institutions in the Florida Keys to support teachers’ efforts to promote and grow marine science.
  • As coral reef degradation is a pervasive problem worldwide, United Way will also invest $150,000 to enable global partnerships with the intent to share knowledge about coral restoration, encourage conversation and dialogue, and ensure that the problem is amplified with the larger environmental community.

Florida Keys communities have pledged to work together to restore reefs, but there’s always potential to increase the reach. The need for voluntary activities is great; Existing reef restoration practitioners cannot do this alone. To address these efforts on the scale needed to reverse the current decline, restoration practitioners must dramatically increase their efficiencies through the use of local volunteers and “voluntourism” opportunities.

We know United Way’s work on this project is a long-term endeavor. And our commitment in terms of people, knowledge, funding and capacity is designed for long-term results. It is a major investment that we believe will transform the future of our community.

We also need to think holistically and understand the intersectionality of the components of the marine environment. Coral reefs are connected to the ocean worldwide. Inland pollution is related to the decline of the coastal environment. Seagrasses are related to water quality. These are just some of the teachings that could be replicated in other environmentally dependent communities.

Through “Revitalizing the Florida Keys through Reef Restoration and Beyond,” United Way is catalyzing the restoration efforts of the only remaining barrier reef in North America, supporting its continued viability and the vibrant Florida Keys community that depends on it. We hope it will help transform Morgan’s future and that of her community, because a healthy reef is the backbone of the Florida Keys.

Would you like to find out more? Dive deep into how United Way is pioneering a path to economic sustainability in this case study.

The image used in the blog is used with the kind permission of the Coral Restoration Foundation

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