“There’s a lot of bad news when we talk about coral reefs, but there’s also a lot of hope,” stated Lad Akins, curator of marine conservation at the Frost Museum of Science.
“Most of the things that I’ve done have been more on the demolition side, so this is pretty neat, in the restoration side,” noted Steve “Gonzo” Gonzalez, U.S. Navy SEAL and FORCE BLUE member.
“While our time is dwindling, the fight’s not over. Right now, we have the world’s attention. All eyes are on Florida,” said Dalton Hesley, senior research associate at the University of Miami.
It all began over a year ago, when FORCE BLUE joined forces with NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, NFL Green, the University of Miami, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and other partners to start 100 Yards of Hope. The project brought together FORCE BLUE’s special operations veteran divers and scientists from the University of Miami, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Frost Museum of Science to outplant corals on a football field-sized area in Biscayne Bay. The project officially kicked off in February 2020, in recognition of the National Football League’s 100th season and that year’s championship game in Miami. In total, over 2,000 coral fragments were outplanted.
During the past year, NFL Green has leveraged the popularity of American football to bring attention to the issues that coral reefs face worldwide and specifically in Florida. Florida is the only state in the continental U.S. with shallow water coral reefs, most of which are protected within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These reefs are also close to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Florida’s Coral Reef unfortunately faces numerous threats, including climate impacts, land-based pollution, and the unprecedented stony coral tissue loss disease.
As the project came to a close with this year’s championship football game in Tampa, FORCE BLUE and partners turned toward sharing their experience and knowledge with the public. In January 2021, FORCE BLUE hosted 4Hope, a virtual event highlighting the science, policy, and partnerships supporting restoration and conservation in Florida. NOAA specifically spoke about policy with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Last month, FORCE BLUE reached a new achievement with NFL Green by premiering the 100 Yards of Hope documentary during the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, Ohio. Hosted by the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, the documentary premiere highlighted how the project is supporting both coral reefs and military veterans. The premiere was also an opportunity for students to interact with a scientist and veteran featured in the film.
While this project is one step in the larger battle to save Florida’s Coral Reef, it has been incredibly impactful in reaching and educating new groups that are not usually tuned into conservation issues. 100 Yards of Hope has become a shining example of the power of new and diverse partnerships.
The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program was established in 2000 by the Coral Reef Conservation Act. Headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, the program is part of NOAA's Office for Coastal Management.