Fri. Aug 12th, 2022

Military veterans preserve coral reefs in unique Florida dive mission

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America’s veterans are still taking on missions to save the world.

Two retired Special Operations Army veterans, Lt. Col. Suze MacDonald and First Sgt. Dan Henderson, joined an effort just last month to help restore the nation’s depleting coral reefs.

The mission, based in Islamorada, Florida, was headed by conservation organizations I.CARE, which is dedicated to restoring the reefs in the area, plus the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which does scientific research and hosts educational marine care programming.

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The third organization that was involved in the project, Force Blue, retrains and redeploys Special Ops veterans to participate in conservation missions such as this one.

Army veterans, scientists and members of Force Blue and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation hold up the American flag underwater while on a mission to conserve coral reefs in Islamorada, Florida. 

Army veterans, scientists and members of Force Blue and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation hold up the American flag underwater while on a mission to conserve coral reefs in Islamorada, Florida. 
(Force Blue, Inc.)

The two veterans, plus Gold Star family member Katie Palmer and a Monroe County Schools student all participated in the dive in June. Organization representatives and scientists were part of the operation as well.

The team was responsible for transplanting coral during the dive, while conducting maintenance and monitoring previous transplants.

“I want people to appreciate their oceans and the diversity and how much we need it.”

The two-day training and diving project involved nailing down and zip-tying veterinarian-screened coral to the reefs, as well as cleaning algae from young coral.

In an interview with Fox News Digital, MacDonald gave kudos to those involved in the mission, including the scientists, interns and Harvey, whom she described as “so smart.”

A military veteran zip-ties coral to the reef in Islamorada, Florida.

A military veteran zip-ties coral to the reef in Islamorada, Florida.
(Force Blue, Inc.)

“Having the people with skills work with folks with the knowledge was so amazing,” she said.

The retired intelligence officer emphasized the importance of not taking our oceans for granted, as she had prior to exiting the military, she said.

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“I want people to appreciate their oceans and the diversity and how much we need it,” she said.

Military combat diver Dan Henderson, a new retiree after 20.5 years of active duty, described the experience as educational. 

A group of volunteers works to outplant coral on a reef in Florida.

A group of volunteers works to outplant coral on a reef in Florida.
(Force Blue, Inc.)

He explained that scientists directed the divers to plant more than 150 pieces of coral — a small number that will make a generational impact.

“While the effects of this may be small, what we’re doing is setting this generation [and] future generations up for a better quality of life,” he said.

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Henderson, who is also lead scuba instructor at the Divers Institute of Technology in Seattle, stressed the importance of educating the public on how coral reefs impact humans.

“One person can make a difference, but together we can make an impact.”

“I think partnering with special operations veterans and things like that — it brings a different perspective to it,” he said.

“We’re on the right track as far as the conservation side of things go.”

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation co-chair Jessica Harvey considered it an “absolute pleasure” to work alongside the other nonprofits and to take the dive herself, she told Fox News Digital.

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“One person can make a difference, but together we can make an impact,” she said.

The mission generated a greater awareness for the health of coral reefs, as only 2% of coral remains living in the Florida Keys.

Divers on a coral reef conservation mission pose for the camera underwater in Islamorada, Florida.

Divers on a coral reef conservation mission pose for the camera underwater in Islamorada, Florida.
(Force Blue, Inc.)

Coral reefs make up less than .2% of our oceans but contain 25% of the world’s fish species, second only to the rainforest in diversity, according to Harvey.

Even though it’s a “shame” that saving our oceans has come to outplanting coral, Harvey expressed that it’s “amazing” the science is actually working.

A diver is spotted working on a reef in Islamorada, Florida.

A diver is spotted working on a reef in Islamorada, Florida.
(Force Blue, Inc.)

During the dive, Harvey spotted the coral she’d planted with her father, Dr. Guy Harvey, a year earlier — which she described as “so satisfying.”

Coral reefs offer a slew of benefits to humankind, Force Blue co-founder Jim Ritterhoff told Fox News Digital, including medicinal development and oxygen production.

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One out of every three breaths that humans take come from the ocean, Ritterhoff said.

“It’s just this amazingly important ecosystem that we derive so much from,” he said. 



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