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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A study by the United Nations found most coral reefs could be gone in 30 years.

Florida’s barrier reef, which stretches 300 nautical miles, is among those threatened and the race is on to turn the tide.

University of Miami marine biologist Stephanie Schopmeyer says parts of the reef are already disappearing.

“Over the past 30 to 40 years we’ve seen drastic declines in coral cover. It’s mostly been due to climate change. Changes in the water chemistry, overfishing, and pollution.”

In ten years, parts of the reef lost nearly half of its coral. Schopmeyer is with “Rescue Reef,” a group which enlists the help of volunteers called ‘citizen scientists’.

“Any time a citizen scientist comes out with us we’re able to put more corals on the reef than we would normally be able to do,” said Schopmeyer.

It’s like underwater gardening. Newly grown coral is harvested from one part of Key Biscayne and transplanted to another, divers secure it to the ocean floor.

Planting them is a delicate time-consuming process. Biologist Ross Cunning carefully monitors the coral’s survival rate.

“We’re trying to identify which corals are able to withstand warming temperatures,” he said.

Coral reefs are vital to the state’s economy, billions of dollars are at stake – from fishing to tourism. The reef also helps protect against beach erosion and hurricanes.

“They can reduce the magnitude of the storm surge and the flooding that might occur, so they act as the first line of defense against storm surge,” said Cunning.

Reef Rescue has already re-planted two thousand corals.

After Natalie Mertel’s first dive with the group, she was sold.

“It’s tough to do. I would do it again,” she said. “Without the coral, the little creatures in the ocean can’t live, and without the ocean, well, there’s no life.”

So citizen scientists vow to keep doing it, one coral at a time.


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