Feds: Underwater 'Christmas Trees' Key To Saving Rare Coral

Sep 24, 2014

Hang a shining star upon the highest . . . PVC pipe? An undersea NOAA nursery where pieces of growing coral dangle like Christmas ornaments from plastic piping.
Credit NOAA

"Maybe it just needs a little love," said Peanuts character Charlie Brown in describing his tiny Christmas tree with branches so fragile a single ornament weighs them to the ground.

Perhaps the same could be said of distressed coral.

Federal scientists believe that a spindly structure resembling an underwater Charlie Brown tree could play a huge role in saving rare coral damaged by the PortMiami deep-dredge project.

The $205 million project is being managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. In August, state inspectors reported an alarming amount of sediment covering nearby elkhorn and staghorn coral -- both listed as endangered species.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration propose relocating whole colonies of damaged coral to undersea nurseries where they can be restored to health.

The nursery technology is stunningly simply, according to NOAA Protected Resources Administrator David Bernhart.

"It's some PVC pipe standing up out of the sand with branches going out to either side," says Bernhart. "Then the pieces of coral are hung on a little piece of string, up in the clean water away from the sand.  And they'll grow there dangling from the branches like Christmas tree ornaments." 

NOAA officials say they're working closely with the Army Corps and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that there's minimal impact to the coral.

Meanwhile, an environmental group, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, says it's giving the three agencies until September 30 to work out a viable coral protection solution -- or else it will take the Army Corps to court.