“There’s ways to have a more meaningful life. This is one of those… This is a great experience, a great way to give back and has great potential to change … the future of coral reefs in the Caribbean.” ~ Ken Nedimyer
Ken Nedimyer, founder and president of the Coral Restoration Foundation, is a long time resident of the Florida Keys. While in high school in Central Florida, Ken’s fascination with coral reef habitats and fish led him to apply for and build an artificial reef in the Indian River Lagoon, at the time the youngest person to ever apply for an Army Corps of Engineers permit for an artificial reef.
In the late 1980’s, Ken started to observe the Florida reefs struggling with disease, coral bleaching, and overfishing. In 1994, Ken received the first live rock aquaculture permit to be issued on the East Coast of the United States, and the first one to be issued in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
His Florida coral reefs were in serious trouble
By 1998 he saw that with climate change and ocean acidification his Florida reefs were in serious trouble and he started to consider how to expand his live rock aquaculture into growing live coral reefs. In 2002 he began an offshore coral nursery that today has the potential to change the future of coral reefs in the Florida Keys. His years of experimentation involved developing better methods and improved coral nursery techniques; training volunteers and developing effective ways to transplant the corals onto the nearby reefs.
Ken is developing coral restoration programs throughout the Caribbean
His persistence paid off and led to the formation of the non-profit Coral Restoration Foundation in 2007, and the development of one of the world’s largest offshore coral nurseries. In 2012 Ken began nursery programs in Colombia, South America and Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles), and those programs are now producing thousands of corals per year which are being transplanted onto their local reefs. In 2014 Ken helped start the Coral Restoration Foundation International, to work on developing coral nursery and restoration programs throughout the Caribbean over the next five years.
Ken’s story and the results of his work addressing ocean issues has resulted in his being given several prestigious awards, including being named as a 2012 CNN Hero for “Defending the Planet”, a Wyland ICON Award Recipient in 2013, SCUBA Diving Magazine’s “Sea Hero of the Year” for 2014, Disney Wildlife Fund Conservation Hero in 2014 and has been featured in stories on CBS Evening News, ABC News, NBC News, Fox News, PBS News Hour, Al Jazeera, Chinese Television News (CTN), Korean Broadcasting Network (KBN), Wild Kingdom, BBC, and Discovery Science.
A large part of Ken’s program involves the training and efforts of hundreds of Citizen Scientists that have volunteered to help in the coral nurseries, to clean and transplant coral cuttings onto reefs. As Ken says “If somebody wants to have a one-afternoon [voluntourism] experience .. we can do that. If they want to have a week-long experience, we can do that. I think the people that do it for a week, at the end of that week they’re never going to be the same.”
Ken feels that todays’ scuba divers want more than a traditional vacation. They want to become ocean activists and to have a more meaningful and sustainable diving experience, that contributes to and takes care of the marine environment. Ken believes that the voluntourism that his Coral Restoration program offers is that rich and fulfilling experience. “These people who go through the program are more aware […] they’re a new, enlightened person.”
“We need more divers demanding a better experience”.
If you find Ken’s passion inspiring and wish to know more about sustainable travel and voluntourism visit the Coral Reef Foundation. To hear the entire Ken Nedimyer’s interview go to: Blue Ocean Summit 2015: Ken Nedimyer. And you can find out more about the locations around the Caribbean where the Coral Restoration Foundation International now has programs.
Another of our speakers that believes that Dive Tourism can be a Tool for Conservation is Lois Hatcher. Lois was in the right place at a bad time. In August 2014 a cruise ship dragged its anchor across an important dive site off Grand Cayman Island where Lois runs a sustainable dive operation. To find out more about how Lois and her team of local volunteers have been gradually rebuilding Magic Reef read her article at Ocean Profiles: Lois Hatcher