Dive one: From an acre of sand 30 feet deep protrude dozens of 15-foot high, tree-shaped racks. Coral morsels hang like ornaments from the “branches.” The divers, divided into teams, resemble hummingbirds in suspension as they collect the coral and then gently place the fragments in piles below. One hour later, 60 color-tagged, genetically diverse coral fragments are ready for transplanting.
Dive two: It is the same day, later in the afternoon. The group motors three miles from the nursery to Molasses Reef for a health check of corals planted by other teams earlier in the season. The mechanics of planting a coral are simple: scrape a rock clean of algae, then affix the coral stem with underwater putty.
While many of the new corals on Molasses are thriving, a few have broken branches. But it is difficult to concentrate entirely on the repairs. The reef undulates with a plethora of soft fan corals in some of the clearest, fishiest waters in Florida. The views are stunning. And distracting.
Dive three: The next day’s destination is Dry Rocks Reef. After the boat is moored, the captain introduces everyone to a Florida institution. He is Jerry Greenberg, a pioneer underwater photographer for National Geographic Magazine who is in his mid-80s. Greenberg has arrived on his own boat and will serve as the landscape architect, directing coral placement for best effect on one of his favorite Florida reefs.
“Some day my great-granddaughter Shana will be able to celebrate again the glory of corals in Florida,” Greenberg says. Then the octogenarian pops his regulator in his mouth and jumps overboard. Everyone else basically spends the next hour trying to keep up.
Again and again Greenberg points to planting sites and divers obediently respond. Eventually 60 baby stag horns have white putty foundations and a perch for new life in the wild.
The trip home is into a setting sun. An air of work-done-well permeates the group, which occasionally erupts into laughter and song. The passage seems scripted, in need of a final pithy take-home quote. It goes to Sommerkamp:
“Twenty five years from now I want to bring my kid here. And I want to brag: ‘Look what I did!’ ”
David Arnold can be reached at email@example.com.