Sunday, October 23, was the third day of our adventurous Keys trip. This was the day we finally got to start diving! We woke up, got ready and left for Captain Hooks, which is the dive shop that we partner with. The first three dives on Sunday, our goal was to outplant coral, which means we take it from the coral nursery, off the coral trees, and outplant it onto the reef.

Kailey and her dive buddies with the corals they collected in the Reef Renewal nursery headed to Looe Key reef to outplant them.

The first dive was just collecting it from the nursery into big baskets in order to transport it out to the reef. The second dive, we moved from Reef Renewal’s coral nursery out to Looe Key Reef, and we cleaned the outplant site. In order for the cement blocks, which we use to outplant coral, to stick to the reef, it has to be free of any algae. Because of this, we have to take wire brushes and the back side of hammers, to scrape any algae off the calcium carbonate, which is bare coral skeleton.

A sample of how coral fragments are positioned in epoxy for outplanting.

Quickly after we finished scraping the algae and surfaced from our second dive, we were back in the water for the third. This was the fun part! We took the coral we had collected from the coral trees on our first dive and planted it onto the reef we had just finished cleaning. We did this by taking containers full of wet cement down to the reef and dumping the cement onto it. Then we shaped the cement into round blocks onto the reef and stuck the coral into it, keeping the same genotypes on the same blocks. After this long process we surfaced and continued to our last dive of the day.

Our fourth dive we did photogrammetry, which is taking thousands of overlapping photos in order to create one big image. We took pictures of what we had just out planted onto the reef. This was our last dive which brought us to a total of four dives on Sunday.

On Monday we departed early once again to dive Looe Key Reef. Excitingly, the two dives we did were relaxed exploring and learning dives instead of hard-working dives. The coral outplanting was so much fun, but it was more strenuous. Today we got to relax a little while learning and teaching new skills. The first dive, Jaxon and I were on the team teaching photogrammetry to the other nauts that wanted to learn it and the rest of SCUBAnauts ventured out to do fish surveys. On this dive we saw a sea turtle and a couple reef sharks!

Nauts head to the reef to capture photogrammetry images of the corals they just outplanted.

When our time was up, we surfaced and had a quick snack before beginning our second dive. The closing dive of this trip was an exploring dive. Excitingly I got to practice being dive lead on this dive, and I took my small group on a tour of Looe Key Reef. Once again, we saw a reef shark and we got to see a few Moray Eels along with many common reef fish. After this short, but fun, 30-minute dive we surfaced, and that was the end of diving for this keys trip. We boated back to land and departed in a van from the Florida Keys back to Tampa.


–Kailey Skidd, 1st Class Naut, Tarpon Springs Chapter