Federal officials and environmental groups began planting more than 60,000 fragments of nursery-raised coral at reefs located off the Florida Keys.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday that workers started the three-year project at Eastern Dry Rocks Sanctuary Preservation Area near Key West. Officials say Eastern Dry Rocks contains a concentration of bank reef habitats that are ecologically and economically important to the Florida Keys.
The restoration effort is part of a large-scale project that seeks to restore seven coral reefs within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA says.
"Outplanting at this unprecedented scale is one of many immediate actions needed to address the rapid decline in our treasured coral reefs," said Ben Friedman, acting NOAA Administrator. "The Florida Keys has become a world leader in coral restoration with new techniques for addressing threats and accelerating coral growth, thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between NOAA, our partners, and a community of stewards."
Distinct genetic strains of elkhorn and staghorn corals are being transplanted across more than 9 acres. The work is being funded by a $5 million grant which was awarded to several local environmental groups, including Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.
The reef track in the Keys attracts millions of visitors every year and provides the area more than $2 billion of economic impact, according to NOAA.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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