Buggin’ Out for Coral Reefs

August 7, 2018

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The drink that’s helping bring coral reefs back from the brink

Guest Blog: By Keegan Glennon, Coral Restoration Foundation

We admit it. Every so often, the crisis facing life in the oceans drives us to drink.

A thicket of outplanted staghorn coral on Pickles Reef, Florida Keys. Photo by Zach Ransom/Coral Restoration Foundation

So, at the Coral Restoration Foundation, we are thrilled that Swamp Head Brewery has our back with their latest release – “Buggin’ Out”! Every can of this new brew raises funds for our programs at the Coral Restoration Foundation – the largest coral restoration organization in the world. And this support has arrived not a moment too soon…

Coral reefs have existed for around 50 million years, and have historically survived and adapted to natural fluctuations in the planet’s climate. But now, human activity is causing an emergency in the world’s oceans, with all shallow-water coral reefs projected to disappear in the next 80 years. This would be the first time that humanity has faced the loss of an entire biome.

As an intern at the Coral Restoration Foundation, I get to dedicate every day to help protect and restore this unique and complex ecosystem, right here in Florida. Our main focus is on restoring populations of staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) corals. These were once the dominant reef-building species in this area, but both are now listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species; their populations here have declined by around 97% in the last 40 years.

The coral reefs in Florida are home to a huge array of organisms, including the Florida spiny lobster – the namesake of Swamp Head Brewery’s’ latest beer, “Buggin’ Out”. If we lose these reefs for good, we also lose the species that depend on them. 

What’s buggin’ coral reefs?

Coral reefs are known as the “rainforests of the sea”. They are immensely diverse and important ecosystems, supporting a quarter of all marine life. Coral reefs provide vital services to terrestrial ecosystems as well – protecting coasts from erosion, mitigating damage from storm surges, and supplying more than one billion people with their primary source of protein. The economic value of the world’s coral reefs is estimated at nearly 10 trillion dollars!

Photo by Zach Ransom/Coral Restoration Foundation

Divers work in the CRF Tavernier Coral Tree (TM) Nursery. Photo by Zach Ransom/Coral Restoration Foundation

Coral reefs are an essential component of a healthy ocean, and the oceans produce around 70% of the oxygen we breathe. If coral reefs were to disappear, we know that the cascading effects would be catastrophic for all life on Earth.

Climate change is clearly the biggest long-term threat to coral reefs around the world. Humans have added an unprecedented amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in the last century which is causing water temperatures to rise dramatically, and seawater to become increasingly acidic. Warmer waters are causing corals to bleach on a massive scale, and ocean acidification is making it increasingly difficult for corals to grow their calcium carbonate skeletons which form the “backbones” of coral reefs.

It is essential that we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we are adding to the atmosphere if coral reefs are going to survive into the next century. But, in the meantime, there are also a number of local stressors that are killing our reefs that are well within our capacity to address in the short term.

These include:

  • Overfishing
  • Pollution (including plastics, nutrient run-off, sewage, and sunscreens)
  • Direct damage from boat anchors, divers, and snorkelers

These local stressors were the primary causes of the loss of coral populations along the Florida Reef Tract. Thankfully, in recent years, much work has been done to alleviate many of these pressures. Now the time has come to scale-up efforts to restore the coral populations that have been lost. Which is exactly what we are doing at the Coral Restoration Foundation.

Bringin’ it back

At the Coral Restoration Foundation, we grow thousands of coral fragments in massive, offshore Coral Tree Nurseries. Once these little coral colonies have reached a “reef ready” size, we outplant them onto carefully selected reef sites along the Florida Reef Tract. We have now planted more than 70,000 corals back onto the Florida Reef Tract.

Divers work in the CRF Tavernier Coral Tree (TM) Nursery. Photo by Zach Ransom/Coral Restoration Foundation

Along with our restoration work, our Science Department works hard to track the reef sites that we are restoring to see how our newly planted coral colonies are doing and to monitor the effects of our work on the reefs as a whole. And so we know that our methods are working; some of our older outplants are now spawning naturally ­– a sure sign that they are thriving, and that with enough time and effort, the reefs here will be healthy enough for their natural recovery processes to kick in.

We also have a strong Education Department that works to spread the message about how to reduce negative impacts on reefs and inspire the next generation of marine scientists and enthusiasts. For this is what we need to succeed – more people to join our mission to protect and restore the world’s coral reefs. We simply can’t do this alone.

By supporting our work to restore these amazing ecosystems, Swamp Head’s “Buggin’ Out” is helping to ensure that the spiny lobster continues to have a home here in Florida for years to come.


Coral Restoration Foundation

A researcher observes a spawning colony of staghorn coral in Coral Restoration Foundation’s Tavernier Nursery. Photo by Coral Restoration Foundation

Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) is the world’s largest non-profit marine-conservation organization dedicated to restoring coral reefs to a healthy state, in Florida and globally. Their core mission is to restore coral reefs, to educate others on the importance of our oceans, and to use science to further coral research and coral reef monitoring techniques.

Through large-scale cultivation, outplanting and monitoring of genetically diverse corals, CRF works to support the reefs’ natural recovery processes. CRF engages and empowers others in the mission with dive programs, educational activities, scientific collaborations, and outreach.

For more information, and to find out how you can get involved in the mission to save coral reefs from extinction, visit www.coralrestoration.org


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