One of the first things Jason and I did together when we started dating (eons ago – at least that’s what it feels like some days) was get certified for scuba diving. It was something we had both been wanting to do and so earning those certifications together was pretty special. And of course we had to put those newly minted PADI cards to work so we started traveling to places to dive, Mexico being the top of that list.

Our first ever dives were in Mexico and we were hooked right away by how beautiful it was and we continued to return year after year. But over those frequent trips we started to notice a change in the places we were diving. The fish weren’t as plentiful or as big as they used to be and we noticed the reefs and coral were becoming less vibrant and, in some places, disappearing all together. We learned from some of our dive guides that warmer water temperatures and other changing environmental factors combined with human impact like pollution wasn’t just hurting the reefs but also flat out killing it (I could do a whole post on why reefs are important, but instead I’ll direct you here where people with way more degrees than me can explain it).

For awhile Jason and I became disenfranchised with diving because of the condition of the reefs and wildlife. What was the point? And more specifically, were we contributing to the death and destruction of this precious resource? We talked and talked about how terrible it was and we tried to make conscious decisions to live a more eco-friendly life by reducing, reusing and recycling as much as possible. But to be honest, we didn’t actually DO anything.

So thank goodness there are people in the world who can pick up the slack for lame, lazy people like me and who happen to be smart and passionate and have made it their mission to try and make things right. And when one of those amazingly smart and passionate people recently called for volunteers? Time for us to stop being lazy and get to work. Which is how we recently found ourselves on a boat in the middle of the ocean with members of Oceanus, a conservation organization, and other like-minded volunteers with a mission to help save the reefs.

Pre-trip instruction
Gabriela explaining who Oceanus is, what they are doing here and why it’s important. She’s passionate about the work and I feel she could (and should) talk for hours about the subject.

One of the ways that Oceanus is working on marine conservation is by harvesting, growing and then transplanting new coral where it’s needed. For real. It seems like such a simple concept, right? I’m here to tell you, though, it’s anything but easy to do.  First, structures, or nurseries, were built to begin the process of growing the coral. When the coral is ready it is then harvested from the nursery, transported and planted in a new home among existing reef where it will hopefully grow and spread. I have no doubt there are people way more qualified to do this work, but somehow they accepted our offers to volunteer and so that is what we set off in a couple of boats to do.

On (actually off) a boat in the middle of the ocean. Maybe I should have paid more attention to Gabriela so I would have some idea of what I’m supposed to be doing.

 

If we act like we know what we’re doing no one will notice otherwise, right? (Thanks to our friend Karen for the photo – pics of us together are few and far between).

 

Coral nurseries
The nurseries full of recently grown coral! Such a beautiful sight to see.

 

Coral nursery
The nurseries are structures made of simple PVC tubing. Man-made materials helping nature regenerate? Love it.

 

Jason harvesting coral
Our first assignment was to dive down to the nurseries and unscrew each piece of new coral.  Jason looks like a natural. Although this might be take #17 because we’ve gotten so used to being underwater with oxygen tanks when diving that holding our breath for long periods was a challenge. Needless to say, freediving is probably not in our near futures.

 

Elkhorn coral
Elkhorn coral is being used because it is fast-growing, houses a tremendous amount of marine life and it’s unique, fan-like shape helps it withstand storms a bit better.

 

Transferring Coral
Once we harvested the coral we put it in the basket for transport to its new home. I can’t help but think the guys with scuba gear might have been a tad more productive then we were.

 

Harvested coral
Moving day! This brand new coral is about to get a major home upgrade.

After we harvested the coral from the nurseries we got back on our boats and headed to the next location where we would transfer the coral to their new homes. The Oceanus crew had already spent time the previous day building ‘houses’ for the new coral – basically a cement like base that had another PVC tube for us to screw the base of the coral that we harvested in to. This meant more diving and holding of our breaths, although this time on another level because there wasn’t anything to hold on to.

Transplanting elkhorn coral
This guy from Oceanus made it look easy (it wasn’t). Practice makes perfect, I guess.

 

Transplanted coral
Home sweet new home!

 

Lobster
While underwater we couldn’t resist stopping to say hi to some of the sea creatures we saw. This lobster better get shy real quick or he’s going to be gracing someone’s dinner plate soon.

By the end of our time on the water we had harvested and transplanted about 150 coral colonies into new homes where they will hopefully grow and thrive. But that 150 is just a drop in the bucket. So far this year Oceanus has transplanted more than 7,000 colonies and they’re not done yet. In addition to our area they are also hard at work rebuilding the reefs in areas including Tulum, Puerto Morelos, Akumal and in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Veracruz. Whew. They’re a small group that relies on volunteers and donations to get their work done – which is where you can help. I mean I’m sure they’re more then happy to have you come down and volunteer your time (and if you’re looking for a great place to stay….although you’ll have to share beach space with the turtles) but if that’s not realistic, donations are happily accepted. For about $30 USD you can adopt a coral, or you can go big and adopt a whole nursery or reef. Or you can support Oceanus by buying one of their cool t-shirts or rash guards (just stay away from the gray one or we’ll be twinsies).

Look, I think by now we’ve documented our love of the ocean pretty well here (if you didn’t know this you might have been reading someone else’s blog). We love being in the water, on the water or even just near the water. Snorkeling, scuba diving, fly fishing. You name it, we’ll do it. And coral reef conservation has been added to the list of things that we will donate our time, money and space here to help out. Our love for the ocean extends to respect (hello hurricanes and tropical storms!) as well as a desire to protect it so that it’s around for years and years for all of us to continue to enjoy.