GULF OF MEXICO — Mote Marine Laboratory joined forces Monday with members of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and SCUBAnauts International in an underwater mission to restore Florida’s reef. More than 50 divers planted some 250 fragments of staghorn coral in Mote’s special restoration site near Looe Key.

This year marks the fourth year the groups have worked together to plant coral fragments grown in Mote’s underwater coral nursery in the restoration area. Mote established the nursery more than eight years ago to grow colonies of the threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) for replanting on decimated or damaged sections of reef within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

When the colonies reach a suitable size, small fragments nearly 2 inches long are snipped off and used to create a new colony — similar to the way new plants are grown from cuttings of existing plants. Then these cuttings are then mounted on the reef so they can grow and develop into new colonies.

Mote has about 10,000 coral colonies — some 150,000 fragments — growing in its underwater nursery representing nearly 60 different genotypes.

Read more here