Wounded veterans of the US Army are finding a renewed sense of purpose as they engage in a remarkable endeavor: the restoration of coral reefs in the captivating expanse of the Florida Keys. This initiative not only offers these veterans a fresh mission but also aids them in overcoming the all-too-familiar feeling of purposelessness that often plagues individuals who have served in the military across various generations.
One of the prevalent challenges faced by veterans is grappling with a sense of aimlessness once they transition to civilian life. This profound struggle has echoed through the years, affecting veterans from different eras. However, beneath the waves of the Florida Keys, an innovative undertaking is making substantial strides in combatting this prevailing sentiment of listlessness. Moreover, the unique underwater environment serves as an equalizing force, diminishing the hindrances posed by physical disabilities such as lost limbs.
This inspiring initiative is a result of a collaborative effort between the Mote Marine Laboratory and the non-profit organization known as the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge (CWVC). Annually, a group of veterans converges for a week-long expedition, led by Michael Crosby. Their shared mission involves the meticulous restoration of coral reefs beneath the glistening waters that adorn the southern extremity of Florida.
At the heart of this endeavor lies Michael Crosby’s pioneering work in cultivating corals with specific phenotypes that showcase resilience against the challenges posed by escalating temperatures and increasingly acidic waters. These environmental conditions are anticipated to characterize the forthcoming half-century as our climate continues to evolve. Armed with nursery-raised corals, the veterans embark on their mission, this year witnessing the collective effort of 31 veterans who planted a remarkable 1,040 new coral specimens in a reef aptly named Higgs Head. As a testament to their dedication, the Mote Laboratory’s tally of planted corals has now surpassed an astounding count of 200,000.
The process entails a series of dives into the aquatic realm. The veterans first meticulously cleanse deceased or ailing corals of encroaching algae. Subsequently, using epoxy resin, they carefully adhere newly cultivated lab-grown coral fragments to the reef’s intricate matrix. This fusion of traditional craftsmanship and innovative techniques symbolizes a marriage of skills forged in military service with cutting-edge scientific knowledge.
In essence, this collaborative effort serves as a beacon of hope for veterans seeking renewed purpose. By reinvigorating the delicate underwater ecosystems that flank the Florida Keys, these veterans not only heal themselves but also contribute tangibly to the well-being of our planet. Their mission not only restores the vibrancy of the marine world but also rekindles the sense of duty and camaraderie that defined their military service.
“They have been instrumental in my recovery, helping me learn what I was going to be able to do after losing my leg,” a 41-year-old Army veteran Billy Costello shared. “It’s great for the heart and the soul, especially when you’re around a group of veterans that have gone through very similar situations and have beat the odds and recovered in such a positive way… It is such a blessing.”
“The coral planting gives the wounded, ill, or injured service member a new found sense of purpose, they get to help the environment and work as a team with other military members who have been what they have been through,” Lt. Col. (Ret) Andrew Lourake, CWVC Vice President of Operations, added. “The challenge, camaraderie, and knowing they are making a difference is the highlight of the year for almost all our participants.”
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