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MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) — The beauty of South Florida’s coastline isn’t just skin deep.

Below the water lies a crucial habitat of Coral, home to hundreds of species of marine pants and animals.

Stephanie Schopmeyer, a University of Miami marine biologist, is working to save them.

“Over the past 30 to 40 years, we’ve seen a drastic decline in coral cover and it’s mostly been due to climate change,” she said as her team set out to “rescue a reef” just off Key Biscayne.

Scientists who are certified divers are replanting parts of the reef with the help of “citizen scientists.” The ‘Rescue a Reef’ program is so popular they have a waiting list.

“Citizen scientists are members of our local community that are interested in participating and contributing to any type of science program, and in our case, it’s coral restoration,” said Schopmeyer.

The first task is to collect the recently-grown coral from artificial “trees” the group has installed along the ocean floor. Once they bring them up to the surface, the divers are taught how to secure the harvested coral back onto the reef for re-planting.

It’s just like underwater gardening — putting down stakes and securing the new coral, all while trying not to drift into other areas where the coral is already growing.

Jessica Glenn has gone on the dive nine times.

“I live here,” she said. “I’m a Floridian so I want to save it.”

Others, like Natlie Mertel, joined the group dive for the first time.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for over a year and it finally worked out today,” she said. “Without the ocean, well, there’s no life.”

‘Rescue a Reef’ is not the only program working to replant the coral reef. Schopmeyer said there is a network of scientists and divers who have already planted tens of thousands of miles of coral every year.

However, there’s still a long way to go.


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