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Acting Director of Service-Learning
Office of Service-Learning
4200 54th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33711
Key Largo: Spring Break 11
On Sunday March 27th a group of nine Eckerd College students and the Campus Rabbi embarked on an adventure as part of the Eckerd College Office of Service Learning Alternative Spring Break Program. Working with the Coral Restoration Foundation, the students were preparing to spend their spring break under water working to protect a little known endangered species.
When speaking of an endangered species, it's easy to evoke sympathy and compassion when it's something as cute and friendly as the manatee. It's easy to elicit concern when the endangered species is the majestic Siberian Tiger or the awe inspiring African Elephant. But when the endangered species is staghorn coral, something which most people don't even realize is an animal in the first place, it doesn't bring forth the same degree of emotion or sympathy. However, our students spent a total of 6 hours in the classroom during their spring break learning about the dire straits in which the staghorn coral exists, and the dire consequences that await if this species goes extinct. The students learned about the many circumstances which led to the death of 97% of all the staghorn coral in the Florida Keys over the last 30 years. From the mysterious disappearance of the Diadema Sea Urchin worldwide to cold winters and hot summer water, pollution and hurricanes; all of these factors have caused the virtual disappearance of Staghorn and Elkhorn Coral which were the foundation of the Coral Reefs in Florida.
Beyond the classroom, the students spent a total of 20 hours each, on or under the water, working in the Coral Nursery or transplanting coral onto Molasses Reef off Key Largo. Anyone who wanted to have fun, recreational diving during their spring break would have been disappointed by this experience. Like farmers working in the fields, the students spent hours cleaning and tending the underwater coral farm.
They learned the innovative techniques used to raise coral until it is viable to be transplanted on the reef. They spent hours cleaning and scrubbing away algae and barnacles from the custom made base-forms from which the coral branches grew.
Because there was a higher concentration of coral in the nursery than even on the reef, the added treat was that there was an incredible amount of large fish hovering close to the students as they worked. One triggerfish in particular enjoyed teasing the students and even nipping at ears and flowing hair.
It was a magical experience and the students were inspired to know that they were making a significant contribution to restore a fragile ecosystem and a national treasure in our own state. Since returning to campus, the students who took part in this program have formed a student scuba club on campus and plan to continue in their volunteer efforts with the Coral Restoration Foundation.