Mote Marine Laboratory’s science-based coral reef restoration initiative for the Florida Keys received major support in the State of Florida budget signed by Governor Rick Scott, Friday, March 16. A total of $500,000 was appropriated by Florida’s legislators and approved by the governor for Mote’s Coral Reef Restoration Initiative, in coordination with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of Environmental Protection.

This is the second year Mote has received government funding for coral restoration; last year’s appropriation will allow scientists to restore 25,000 corals to Florida’s reefs in the 2018 fiscal year, and the new appropriation will allow an additional 25,000 corals to be restored in the 2019 fiscal year.

“Florida Keys coral reefs are the basis of a $6-billion annual economy and 71,000 jobs in Florida; reef restoration is critical for preserving and nurturing the beauty, biodiversity, cultural values and economic impact of this natural treasure,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote. “The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Restoration Working Group, and many others, have recommended the need for intensive coral reef restoration in the Florida Keys to address decades of coral loss. We want to meet this need through successful, science-based restoration strategies.”

In the past decade, Mote scientists have planted more than 35,000 corals onto Florida’s reefs, working with multiple partners to achieve effective restoration. In May 2016, Mote opened its Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration (IC2R3), along with the Alfred Goldstein Institution for Climate Change Studies, at its longstanding Summerland Key campus, expanding scientific capabilities and nursery space to produce coral fragments for restoration.

For years, Mote scientists have restored depleted coral reef areas with fragments of staghorn coral, a threatened branching species, along with massive reef-building species of brain, boulder and star corals grown in nurseries using an innovative method: microfragmentation and fusion. This method, whose restoration applications were pioneered by Mote scientists, involves breaking corals into tiny microfragments to significantly speed their growth.

Significantly advancing this technology, Mote scientists are employing research infrastructure partially funded by the National Science Foundation to identify and selectively restore a variety of genetic strains of corals that are more resilient and resistant to disease, warming ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. The newly funded Mote Coral Restoration Initiative will allow scientists at Mote’s IC2R3 to employ this research to outplant multiple coral species, including reef-building brain, boulder and star corals and branching elkhorn coral grown in Mote’s land-based nursery, and staghorn coral grown in its underwater nursery.

“From coral disease research to restoration outplantings, Mote’s efforts are improving a vital resource for Florida,” said State Representative Holly Raschein. “I am truly pleased that the state budget appropriation will help them continue and expand their work restoring coral reefs for future generations, while ensuring that restoration is supported by sound science. ”

Mote scientists work to provide policymakers, resource managers and the general public with scientifically supported, objective information about coral reef declines and the opportunities to restore reefs. In turn, Mote values the critical support of both private donations and public appropriations.

Said Mote CEO Crosby: “We sincerely thank State Representative Holly Raschein, as well as her many legislative co-sponsors, for environmental leadership in support of this innovative reef restoration initiative.  Governor Scott is also to be applauded for his endorsement of applying and advancing evidence-based coral restoration science and technology to address and mitigate the global threats that challenge the existence of Florida Keys coral reefs. Because of all their collective efforts, we now have more than just hope for the future of Florida’s coral reefs.”