The University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School’s coral conservation program unites researchers, students and community members in coral research and restoration. Winn-Dixie has supported Rescue a Reef through the Community Bag Program.
Tell us about Rescue a Reef.
Rescue a Reef is the citizen science program of Dr. Diego Lirman’s coral research lab at the University of Miami and was founded in 2015. The coral research lab focuses on how best to garden corals of threatened species for use in active reef restoration. But Rescue a Reef goes a step further and gets the community involved; any individual can actually come on the boat to meet our coral scientists, learn about what we do and help rebuild our coral reefs.
What services do you provide to the community?
Rescue a Reef was designed to get the community involved because, even though we benefit immensely from our coral reef ecosystems, individuals are just disconnected. We aim to get people involved through education, outreach and citizen science to make it clear how important coral reefs are, what issues they’re facing and the tools available for any individual to actually use to help conserve and restore. So not only are we rebuilding coral reefs offshore, but we’re trying to foster stewardship onshore through all those activities.
What sets Rescue a Reef apart from other nonprofits?
I think we’re different than other nonprofits because of how hands-on we are. We’re trying to raise awareness and promote action, but we’re also doing the work on the ground. We’re in the field; we’re surveying coral reefs; we’re helping to maintain them; we’re restoring them. That has a real-world impact on day one. But we hope that through those activities, on days 2, 3, 4 and forever, we will have that same impact in the community because we need it.
We’re in the field; we’re surveying coral reefs; we’re helping to maintain them; we’re restoring them. That has a real-world impact on day one.
Coral reefs are facing a number of different issues that can’t be solved solely by coral reef restoration. We need societal support and better policy. That’s why our program aims to work on multiple different levels.
Please tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.
In our work, we’re trying to grow threatened corals and plant them back onto reefs to promote recovery. The ultimate goal is for them to sustain themselves where they grow to maturity, can reproduce and seed the surrounding area and make baby corals of their own so that we don’t have to continue doing that work. But until 2020, we had yet to observe that in the field.
However, that year, we actually saw that corals planted by our citizen scientists through Rescue a Reef successfully spawned and produced happy, healthy coral babies that would grow and go on to help contribute to reef recovery. That was a phenomenal milestone for us and showed proof of concept that what we’re doing has the potential to be a critical part of coral reef recovery. And that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our many community members.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
One thing our program strives for is our emphasis on reach. We want to consistently engage a broad, diverse, new group of individuals because that’s what you need to change perceptions, promote behaviors, and see more civic engagement.
We recently had our 1000th citizen scientists come on the boat with us to help with our coral gardening and reef restoration. That was a hard number to wrap our heads around. That’s a lot of people volunteering their time and energy to support this cause. It’s something we’re really proud of, but we’re already eyeing the next milestone of 2000.
We recently had our 1000th citizen scientists come on the boat with us to help with our coral gardening and reef restoration.
What do you want people to know about Rescue a Reef?
The most important thing for people to know about Rescue a Reef is that we need your help. We built the program because we recognize that our research lab alone can’t restore the future of coral reefs. It will be determined by the people, our community members and what they decide to do to prevent that loss.
How they help can look many different ways. It could be talking to a neighbor or calling a local representative. It could be coming on the boat with us to help us restore coral reefs. But we want people to start somewhere. Dedicate today as the day to make a difference and support coral conservation because our time is running out.
How will you use the funds raised from the Winn-Dixie Community Bag?
Every dollar from the Winn-Dixie Community Bag program goes directly towards the coral gardening and reef restoration activities of Rescue a Reef. Hosting these activities is quite costly. We have to charter the boat and get the staff and experts trained to carry out the activities and the materials.
But sponsors like this program make it much more affordable for any individual to participate. To give you an example, the typical cost to go out on a two-dive excursion or snorkel is over one hundred dollars. We can offer it for only $20 because of support like this.
We realize we can’t have a community-based organization inaccessible to most of the community. We need it to be open and accessible because any individual who wants to make a difference should be able to do so. We’re very grateful for Winn-Dixie’s support.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Coral reefs are critical ecosystems for both marine organisms and humans alike. They protect our coastlines. Many people don’t realize that coral reefs actually absorb up to 97% of all offshore wave energy. That physical structure is critical, and they put food on our tables. Over a billion people on this planet rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. They are the backbone of South Florida’s economy. Whether it’s tourism, recreation, fisheries, beaches or medicine, they are an incredible source of goods and services.
Coral reefs are critical ecosystems for both marine organisms and humans alike. They protect our coastlines.
In fact, $8 billion per year in goods and services are provided by coral reefs, so losing them in our lifetime should be very concerning to any individual who calls Florida home.
Dalton J. Hesley, Program Manager of Rescue a Reef.
Published May 2, 2023.