Our Aquarium Supervisor & His Mission to Save Coral Reefs – Day 5

Friday, May 22

11 a.m.

The Georgia Aquarium crew made an early trip to make a deep dive on a nearby wreck, while I stayed behind to make some coral trees.  The workshop is set up on Ken Nedimyer’s home property and consists of a couple of drill presses beneath sunshades.  Volunteer Jonathon Cole, and later Ken, tutored me on construction of the structures.  They need to be very precise in order to maintain rigidity.  The cross (horizontal) beams are fashioned from fiberglass rod while the central (vertical) structure is PVC piping.  Ken has constructed very simple but effective wooden guides to help keep everything straight.  Slots for the horizontal rods are drilled at alternating 90 degree angles to one another to maximize the amount of corals that can be hung on a single tree.  A total of ten holes are drilled in each set of horizontal arms, from which corals are suspended with monofilament line.  In the past, they had as many as 16 holes but that caused too much crowding with rapid coral growth.  A modern coral tree holds 100 fragments in total.

Captain Sonny constructing a coral tree.
Captain Sonny constructing a coral tree.

Once everything is drilled, the horizontal arms are inserted through the PVC “trunk” and epoxied in place.  By the time 1130 rolled around, I had finished two trees.  I wanted to do more, but needed to meet up at the Marina for my last two dives of the trip.

6 p.m.

The Georgia Aquarium  sponsors an outplanting site at Molasses Reef.  We made our way there to do some maintenance work on Staghorn Coral clusters that had been planted previously.  Without the guidance of CRF staff, it felt a little bit disorganized and overwhelming at first but we quickly got accustomed to our surroundings and got started.

Though most clusters were pretty healthy and exhibited good growth, many had broken free from their epoxy anchors.  This site is located in a relatively shallow area with a fairly flat bottom.  Lack of three dimensional structure allowed for stronger surge and made attachment more difficult.

Lack of structure on the flat bottom made reattachment more difficult.
Lack of structure on the flat bottom made reattachment more difficult.

After an hour of maintenance work, we returned to the boat to resupply on air.  Our last dive would be purely for enjoyment!

The second dive was excellent. Molasses Reef has a lot of variability in structure and marine life.  We spent the majority of our time working through the spur-and-groove formations, which where riddled with numerous caves.  It was teeming with life.  We saw both hawksbill and green sea turtles, green moray eels, a huge school of midnight parrotfish crunching away at the reef, nurse sharks and a seemingly endless number of various colorful reef fishes.  Unfortunately, in an hour of exploring I only spotted two natural colonies of Elkhorn coral.  Hopefully, within a few years, they will return to prominence due to the hard work of the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) staff.

One of only two mature Elkhorn colonies I observed at Molasses reef.
One of only two mature Elkhorn colonies I observed at Molasses reef.

Luckily, I’ll be returning again later in the year.  This has been an amazing experience with an even more amazing organization.  Stay tuned for my next round of blogs!

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Special thanks to Ken Nedimyer, Pam Hughes, Jessica Levy, Jonathon Cole and Kayla Ripple of the Coral Restoration Foundation. I am very grateful to my Curator, George Brandy III for suggesting this project in the first place.  Without his guidance, I likely would have never gotten involved with such an amazing project.   I am also very appreciative to the media-related support given to me by Ryan Draper of the HZI Graphics Department and logistical support provided by the Conservation Department.  Lastly, I would like to again thank everyone who helped to fund this project through the Staff Conservation Fund.

Read dive logs from each day of the trip!

Dive Log – Saving Coral Reefs:



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