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Helping Our Oceans Gave Me Hope, The Best Birthday Present Of All

12/16/2014 05:24 EST | Updated 02/15/2015 05:59 EST
Eoin Finn

The boat is rocking back and forth in the ever-present Florida sunshine. It is

December 6, 2014 and I am out in the Caribbean Sea off Key West, Florida; leading

my first ever Blissology Eco-Karma retreat. We're here to help a passionate team

led by sea-hand Ken Nedimeyer on a coral restoration project. Our goal: to

transplant coral from nurseries where it is being grown to the coral reefs, where so

many corals have died.

A strong breeze coming from the north has meant that more than a few bellies are

churning from the motion of the ocean. The first lot of divers is emerging. First come

the telltale bubbles from the scuba tanks, then up come the heads of the divers. They

remove their masks and gulp in their first breath of non-compressed air in the past

hour. They have been 32 feet down in the coral nurseries and have emerged with a

few crates of Staghorn Coral, ready to be transplanted on the neighboring "Pickle

Reef."

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Coral Nurseries?

Not many know about the state of the ocean even though we all know we are

intimately dependent on it. Even fewer know about the demise of coral and the

implications this has for the delicate ecosystems of the ocean and on the land.

Around the world coral are disappearing at alarming rates.

The founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation, Ken, grew up around the ocean in

Florida and has a deep passion for it. He showed us slides of the same reef from

1970, the 80's and 90's, along with current slides. It's shocking to see the changes. Coral is a

fascinating organism that is part animal, part algae, part fungi. It is living and

delicate.

What the recent photos show is the skeletal remains of once living coral. They just

look like rocks. Around the world, estimates are that one fifth of the coral have died in

the Florida Key. A staggering 90 per cent that have disappeared.

Ken has targeted the Elkhorn and Staghorn coral and pioneered fascinating

techniques for growing them in nurseries about thirty feet below the ocean surface.

He grows the coral on what can be best described as a large PVC Christmas tree

stand. He and his teams transplant the coral from the nurseries into the reefs, where

they can colonize and renew themselves. Today that team is us. The Bliss Army, a

crew of about 20 yogis, divers and snorkelers who have come to Key Largo to do

yoga in the morning. We roll our sleeves up and plant coral all afternoon. There is a

name for such efforts, it's called "voluntourism." On my birthday, I just wanted to do

something to take care of the ocean I love so much and the Coral Restoration

Foundation's work like a perfect fit for us.

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I never knew exactly how I would feel when this project came to fruition but when I

saw the coral come up from the nurseries, I picked up on Ken's ability to see

opportunity. How many cafes had I sat in and talked to my friends about

environmental destruction that "they" were doing. My heart felt lighter, life didn't

feel so hopeless anymore, humans weren't a horrible heartless species but hugely

resourceful and cooperative when given a chance.

I never realized the weight of we live with until it was lifted. Sometimes the

massiveness of our current environmental problems seems so overwhelming. We

think to ourselves: "Where do I even start?" At lunch Ken tells me, "Most people only know what it is like to make a living, but very few know the joy of really making a difference."

The next day we sat on the dock at the tropical eco-tourist dream resort called Casa

Morada. The beauty of the ocean surrounded us. We did what I try to do every day, stare out quietly into the open ocean horizon. It reminds us that we are not full

of problems and endless mental chatter but at our essence we are this infinite

horizon; spacious and free. Like coral itself, we could feel the power of being

working as a team. That when we work together as a community for a cause, not

much can give your life more purpose. We are one: fueled by the mystery and

beauty, ignited from the deep blue.

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