It's often said that reefs are the rain forests of the ocean — they cover less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the world's surface area, yet a quarter of all marine life exists in these ecosystems. But we're losing reefs four times faster than we're losing rain forests.

All the coral reefs in the world combined cover about 250,000 square kilometers — an area about the size of Michigan. But 75 percent of reefs are now threatened. There are the usual culprits — coastal development, climate change, diseases, and ocean acidification — and, in developing countries, additional destruction from fishermen who kill their catch by blasting the water with dynamite or cyanide. Reefs generate about $375 billion annually through tourism, fishing, and recreation. In South Florida alone, reefs are said to bring in more than $4 billion a year. They also provide natural protection against hurricanes, flooding, and tsunamis.

One need only stroll around South Florida to see how people undervalue coral by treating it as decoration. The lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan is adorned with intricate, bright-white, branching colonies, including one piece that's a display stand for a pair of cheap pink flip-flops. A little farther north, at the Ralph Lauren boutique in West Palm Beach, a handful of pieces fills a decorative fireplace. In Dania Beach, dozens of coral skeletons line the windows of Alex's Gift Shop, a few with price tags tipping the $4,000 mark. Over in the display case are coral necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.

George Melissas, CEO of Shell Horizons
George Melissas, CEO of Shell Horizons

Baker points out an absurdity: There's no real connection between Florida waters and the coral for sale in stores.

"I can understand the appeal of curio and shell stores," he says. "People come down here and they want to take something away to remind them of their holidays. [But ] virtually everything for sale in those stores comes from Southeast Asia. They have absolutely nothing to do with Florida, the Florida Keys, or anything even remotely local. Ninety-nine percent of coral in the curio stores is from Southeast Asia. As a souvenir, it's illogical."

Why isn't Florida coral for sale? Because the species in our waters are protected, and two of the most important ones — staghorn coral and elkhorn coral — were placed on the Endangered Species List in 2006. They're now afforded the same amount of protection as an African elephant or a bald eagle. This designation, as well as the recent addition of more species as candidates for protection, was spurred by a more than 85 percent decline in coral cover on Florida's reefs since the '70s, mostly due to pollution and disease.

Bleaching is another problem. When water gets too warm, coral essentially vomits out the colorful zooxanthellae living in its tissue. The white skeleton becomes visible underneath. Sometimes reefs recover from bleaching; sometimes they don't. In 1997-98, a single bleaching event wiped out one-sixth of the world's shallow-water corals, mostly in the western Indian Ocean, Baker says.

An optimist might say there's an upside to coral's sad plight: It has spurred an entire body of research aimed at replenishing the reefs. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, $15 million was handed out to coral restoration projects, including one aimed at restoring "136 Olympic-size swimming pools" worth of coral in the Florida Keys and Virgin Islands.

One of the world's most impressive coral nurseries, situated about 30 minutes off the coast of Key Largo, is part of that project. Rows of seven-foot-tall PVC poles are secured to the ocean floor and submerged in about 30 feet of water. Each pole is equipped with several long fiberglass crossbars, and tied to each crossbar are slivers of coral that sway gently in the limpid sea. From a snorkeler's perspective, it looks like a vast underwater farm of hot dogs dangling from 1980s TV antennas.

The mastermind behind this underwater coral farm is Ken Nedimyer: part conservationist, part aquarist, part amateur scientist. He runs a small nonprofit organization called the Coral Restoration Foundation. Over the past ten years, he has developed arguably the most effective and simple method for growing reef-building coral: He ties a fragment to one of the crossbars and just lets it be. A specimen that starts out at three centimeters, or roughly the size of a pinkie finger, will grow into a healthy branching coral that measures 75 centimeters in a year. When large enough, these specimens are taken out of the nursery and transplanted onto select natural reefs.

Whereas many of his peers in the coral-research world come from academia, Nedimyer's business background sets him apart. Before he made a full-time gig out of growing coral to put back on reefs, he sold exotic fish and saltwater live rock for the aquarium trade.

"I was seeing reefs die for sure in the mid-'80s," he says. "By '98, they were just decimated." Now, he says, "I'm looking at how we can go full-on, 100 miles per hour forward, and industrialize this idea so it's massively successful. In the end, the scientists are going to have some really nice papers and interesting findings coming out. And I'm going to have put 100,000 corals back on the reef."

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19 comments
xxxriainxxx
xxxriainxxx

George Melissas is a liar and a thief and wholesale plunderer of Philippine corals, taking advantage of the weak enforcement of laws in a country like the Philippines. Millions of poor Filipinos depend on fishing in the Philippines for their livelihood and for their own daily sustenance and fish catches are dwindling no thanks to Shell Horizons and operations like theirs.

Anna
Anna

Below is part of this article which i think the writer is confused him or herself and shows little knowledge about corals.. This makes sense to what i am saying that CLEAN SEA WATER as in the South Pacific is best for coral growth and Polluted sea waters in Florida or USA kills or destroys corals.. When it rains and all the rivers runs down to the sea with all the land development wastes and polluted the sea and kills these coral animals...

In simple terms, the corals that people took out of the reefs is a finished product that these millions of coral animals built, In clean sea water, when you break the coral, every single broken pcs of coral that is dropped back into the clean sea will become a new coral because the coral animals will continue to built it again. In clean sea in the South Pacific it can only take 6 - 10 months for corals to grow from 1" to 12" for the fast growing species.

" Most people don't even know coral is an animal. But corals hunt, eat, poop, and have sex. They even have huge orgies. For many species, once a year, shortly after sunset on the night of a full moon, masses of coral simultaneously release sacs of reproductive cells, turning the water into a cloudy primordial soup of sperm and eggs."

From the above, it shows the writer of this article has done no reseach in where these corals were taken from. It also shows the writer is only doing it for economical reasons. Maybe they might financial benefits from other buyers who this new trade market is affecting their business...

Kibba
Kibba

It doesn't sound so bad if the reefs are only being decimated. That is, reduced by 10%.

Could it possibly be worse than the headline suggests?

Anna
Anna

You people do not understand,,, we have some so called scientists who sits in their locked offices and acts like they knew everything happening around the world. There has been enough evidence that sea pollution is the greatest causes of coral depletion and death. 80% of Floridas coral reef were destroyed by Human pollution of the sea.. For the South Pacific where these corals came from do not have the sea pollution that you have in Florida and other US states..

Let me educate this so scientist that wrote this un reseached piece of nonsense.. Take the sea from Miami reefs and put it in a tank and put corals inside to grow.. At the same time take the coral from the harvested reefs in the South Pacific and put into a tank to grow.. There is a difference in the sea pollution vs clean sea harvesting of corals.

It is a Scientific Knowledge and Local knowledge that the actual harvesting or breaking of the corals will help the coral to multiply.. every single broken pcs of coral will be come a new coral.. Coral is like grass, the more you harvest it or break it, the more it will grow..

The point i am making is clean sea is vital for coral growth and breaking of the coral will help for more corals to grow... Polluted sea water caused by Human developments is the greatest killer of the coral reefs..

Get you facts right and clean up your backyard before telling others what to do.

Give the South Pacific.

Carol Sobieski
Carol Sobieski

How stupid are some people to ruin the undersea plant life? I'm not an expert in this area but even I know you don't take any of that stuff away with you.

Anna
Anna

You all hypocrites...how many years have the so called first world have contributed to the destruction of the marine life.. how many of your human wastes have ended up in the ocean?..all your inland developments wasted ended up in ocean destroying marine life..

Now you are blaming a few third world countries for destroying your reefs... common...it might be a few trinkets for you rich people for the developing countries, it money making a difference in the peoples lifes.

The wise one.
The wise one.

Id rather pay top money for the Beheaded person's heads that are going around the planet doing this horrific acts! It'd be a GREAT conversation piece!!!

d2xyz
d2xyz

Worry about your own backyard. The proposed dredging at the port of miami is about to kill the octocoral on the reef off of miami beach for the vague prospect of increased shipping traffic. The thinking is that there are too many to relocate, so we'll kill them all.

<<EasyCash At Home>>
<<EasyCash At Home>>

In oneself lies the whole world and if you know howto look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself.

Nancy
Nancy

Oh shit, you should be a "REAL" scientist

Bebep
Bebep

I don't think breaking coral and selling it dried up in a store is helping anything.

And yeah, no shit that pollution is bad for sea life. Thanks for the facts scientist.

What the hell does pollution have to do with taking coral out of the water and selling it dead in a store? Great argument you got going on.

Anna
Anna

Human development, cites and inland infrastructures, mining etc.. All the activities and wastes washed down into the ocean are the greatest contribution to the undersea life..

Clean sea water will always makes corals grow..

Marilyn Schulz
Marilyn Schulz

This is so reflective of the insanity of the present.. We don't do this dumb shit

Anna
Anna

so the coral is more important that a human life...you must be a sick one and should be thrown to the sharks for a feed

aaron b
aaron b

Ah. That is not true at all. Our company just put in a bid for the massive task of replanting and mitigating the affected coral.

Anna
Anna

People in the South Pacific with clean sea waters took corals because people in USA want them...people in USA wants them in their homes, offices. What then is your problem?.. Do little economics law of demand and supply...what right then you have on other people wanting to do with their lifes?.. Should we stop you eating meat because you are contributing to killing animals?? the whole world is going crazy..

Anna
Anna

You read further in the article and you will see the truth...80% of the coral reefs in Florida were destroyed by Human Development.it does not say commercial harvesting...do not blame those half way around the world for you what you have contributed to destroy.. The south pacific ocean has no big cites and land development as you do ... corals will always live forever and ever...

D2xyz
D2xyz

Those would be hard corals my friend. The octocorals are too numerous.

 
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