It’s important to never lose hope for our coral reefs

Dee Dee Vaughan Smause, Director of Communications and Development at Plant a Million Corals, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the importance of protecting the reef. 

Plant a Million Corals looks to educate the public as well as restore coral reefs. 

Smause said, “We are locally based here in the Keys in Summerland Key, but we’re an international coral Restoration Organization. Our goal is to make coral restoration accessible, affordable and scalable. We’re located at mile marker 23 with our farm at Summerand Farms. We’re a land based nursery that is open to the public, people can come on in and see active coral reefs, coral restoration, as we’re doing it every day.”

How long has Plant a Million Corals been in existence? 

Smause said, “Our organization was founded in 2019, originally by Dr. David Vaughan, who’s also my father. He is the scientist that actually discovered micro fragmentation when he was the executive director at Mote Marine Lab. That technology is a way to grow corals 25 to 40 times faster than they normally grow by taking advantage of their natural healing responses.”

Smause has been involved in a number of nonprofits over the years, so Plant a Million Corals just made sense for her. 

She said, “I mean, I’m the daughter of a marine biologist. We always joke that I have saltwater in my veins. My childhood was really, really blessed to have that influence and then when it got to be my turn to see what I wanted to do with my life really making sure that that nonprofits and communities had access to resources that can help them really complete whatever was needed to make their community a better place. So now having this opportunity to work with my family, and doing something that has been a passion for all of us our entire lives, is really truly wonderful.”

What is the eureka mistake? 

Smause said, “So it’s very cool. Most people hear the word mistake and think of a negative connotation, but how many of our incredible scientific discoveries were actually a result of accidents and mistakes that were made by intelligent scientists that saw the value in turning something into a technology. So when Dr. Vaughan was at Mote, they were working with some of the first kind of test tube corals, corals that had been grown through sexual reproduction. They took about three years to get to the size of a large coin, which is an extremely long process. So getting a little frustrated, he did decided to kind of move his research on into a different avenue and set those corals aside. But needing to use those tanks, he went to clean the tanks and found that the coral had actually grown attached to the side. In moving that coral, the coral broke apart into a few pieces. He thought that the coral was going to die and he just killed some of the world’s first test tube baby corals and kind of set them aside to hopefully have some of the pieces survive. When he went back to check on them a few weeks later, he found that the coral had actually regenerated back to fill in that empty space from that damage and because he is an incredible scientist, he took a scalpel and and recreated that same condition and technology that’s now used all over the world for active coral restoration was born.”

The Summerland Farms also grows corals. 

Smause said, “We’re focusing on land based restoration. One of the advantages of that is that we can get up to a very large scale. We’ve got over 34,000 corals right now, at our farm and counting every day. We’re able to work we like to say 367 days a year, because we’re not limited by by weather and water conditions, whether our our boats are able to go out or divers air time. So the our facility is open to the public, anyone can come in, during our hours, 9 to 4, Monday through Friday and on the weekends, if they’d like to make an appointment through our website or social media, we’d be happy to make sure someone’s there and available to give a tour, share what we do, and really get the message of not just coral restoration and the plight of our coral reefs, but the message of hope that we do have working solutions for coral restoration.”

What difference can be made for the coral reefs? 

Smause said, “I would be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that we are losing our coral reefs around the world every day. But that’s not something that we can dwell on. Nor should we. There are very successful programs, not just here in the Florida Keys, although we truly are very lucky to have such a concentration of coral restoration practitioners and programs. Even with our past high temperatures last summer, we did see incredibly high rates of bleaching, but the good news is that bleaching does not mean mortality. So when you see those corals that are that brilliant white, they may not have have died, they may just be extremely stressed. We’re seeing particularly with corals that have been planted out on the reef as a result of restoration programs, a high rate of return for those corals to survive, and are still here live today.”

It’s important to realize people can make a difference for the coral reefs. 

Smause said, “We hear every day about the bad things that are happening on our oceans and particularly on our reefs, it can also almost become paralyzing to think about but when when people realize that not only are amazing things happening, we’re making great strides every day in in the realm of coral reef restoration, but also you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to to be able to make a difference. We do accept tours and volunteers every day. We really can’t do what we do without the support from the community and whether that’s financial support with resources, we’re very lucky to have have many community partners here in the Florida Keys and around the world. Really, mainly to get the message of hope out there and to let your friends and family and neighbors know that that there is a hope for a beautiful reef within our lifetime.”

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