For 30 minutes Monday, a combat-wounded Green Beret went underwater near Looe Key to “forget about any pain from my injuries, and not worry about my prosthetics.”
Retired U.S. Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Bobby Dove of Destin joined a 50-diver team of recovering veterans and young marine scientists in a coral-planting event hosted by Mote Marine Laboratory on Summerland Key.
Members of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge group and SCUBAnauts International combined to plant about 250 fragments of staghorn coral at a restoration site at the Lower Keys reef.
“It was great!” Dove told Mote Marine staff after his first coral-restoration dive. “After you’re injured, it’s hard to know what’s next. But it’s great to know that we are doing something important for the reef…. I had a mission and a job and it meant that for this dive, I was focused only on that task.
Dove was riding a dirt bike on a June 2012 patrol in Afghanistan when a bomb went off. He lost his right arm and leg.
Members of SCUBAnauts, a Palm Harbor-based organization that allows teenagers to participate in marine science, and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge returned to the Keys to help plant coral for the fourth straight year.
“As much as our veteran mentors influence our youth, we find that our [SCUBAnauts’] skill, knowledge and passion inspires our veterans about the future,” said SCUBAnauts International President Jim Cassick.
“The reefs are so damaged and stressed that they cannot repair themselves without our help, so it is important that we undertake this mission to restore them,” said Mote President Michael Crosby. “This mission also helps us raise awareness in the community about the importance of coral reefs.”
The coral-restoration trip, part of Mote’s 60th anniversary, was supported by Lower Keys dive operations Looe Key Dive Center, Strike Zone Charters and Underseas Inc.; the Islander Resort of Islamorada; and several other businesses and benefactors.
The following press release has been provided from the SCUBAnauts:
Mote Scientists, volunteer youths and combat-wounded divers conduct successful coral restoration mission in the Florida Keys
Mote Marine Laboratory staff with members of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and SCUBAnauts International before the mission to restore Florida’s coral reef on Monday, July 20, 2015. Photo credit: SCUBAnauts International
On Monday, July 20, Mote Marine Laboratory joined forces with members of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge (CWVC) and SCUBAnauts International in an underwater mission to restore Florida’s reef. In all, 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 that the groups have worked together to plant coral fragments that were 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 (about 5 cm) 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.
“I can’t think of a better way for Mote to celebrate its 60th anniversary year than working with volunteer citizen scientists — these SCUBAnaut youths and combat wounded veterans — to conduct the science necessary to restore coral reefs that have been damaged over the last several decades,” said Mote President & CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby. “The reefs are so damaged and stressed that they cannot repair themselves without our help, so it is important that we undertake this mission to restore them. This mission also helps us raise awareness in the community about the importance of coral reefs, which in Florida are home to 6,000 species, support 72,000 jobs and contribute to healthy oceans that provide more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe — keeping us all alive.”
Mote has about 10,000 coral colonies — some 150,000 fragments — growing in our underwater nursery representing nearly 60 different genotypes. “Since Mote began this work, we have planted more than 7,700 coral fragments to help restore Florida’s reef and the annual mission with the CWVC and SCUBAnauts has been a major part of accomplishing that work,” said Erich Bartels, Manager of Mote’s Coral Reef Monitoring and Assessment Program who oversees the staghorn coral nursery project.
The Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge improves the lives of wounded and injured veterans through rehabilitative high-adventure and therapeutic outdoor challenges while furthering the physiological, biomedical and pathological sciences associated with their injuries. The veterans who participate in the outdoor challenges have suffered from traumatic brain injuries, PTSD or have lost limbs. Military medical personnel and prosthetic experts from Florida State University and Florida International University participated in this trip to help evaluate the veterans’ recovery from injuries and develop next-generation prosthetics suitable for extreme aquatic activities.
SCUBAnauts International’s mission is to guide young men and women ages 12 through 18 along an exciting pathway for personal development by involving them in the marine sciences through underwater marine research activities, such as special environmental and undersea conservation projects, that build character, promote active citizenship and develop effective leadership skills.
During this mission, the youths and veterans had the opportunity to work together in a cross-mentorship adventure with the SCUBAnauts sharing their knowledge of the underwater world and the veterans showing the teens how to move forward and be successful in the face of adversity.
Retired Staff Sgt. Bobby Dove, originally from Gloucester, Virginia, and now of Destin, Florida, served as a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces. He was injured on June 9, 2012, by an IED that blew up while he was driving a dirt bike on combat patrol in Afghanistan. As a result, his dominate hand and leg were amputated. On Monday, he made his first coral restoration dive.
“It was great!” he said. “After you’re injured, it’s hard to know what’s next. But it’s great to know that we are doing something important for the reef and diving on this trip was especially good because I had a mission and a job and it meant that for this dive I was focused only on that task and could forget about any pain from my injuries and not worry about my prosthetics for 30 minutes.”
“Seeing the drive and determination of our veterans puts every day struggles into perspective,” said Jim Cassick, President & CEO of SCUBAnauts International, which is based Palm Harbor, Florida, . “This unique partnership fits perfectly with our primary purpose to inspire our ‘nauts to develop effective leadership skills, make better decisions and build character. As much as our veteran mentors influence our youth, we find that our ‘naut’s skill, knowledge and passion inspires our veterans about the future. These two seemingly different groups come together to inspire each other and make a positive, lasting difference for our environment.”
Diver Jessica Silk, 18, participated in her last coral restoration mission as a SCUBAnaut. After four years, she’s graduated from high school and is moving on to the University of Florida where she’ll be studying applied physiology and kinesiology — in-part because of her experiences with the combat wounded veterans. “This program has been so amazing — from seeing the corals that we’ve planted in past years surviving and growing, to working with the vets. It’s really been great to be a part of this project.”
“Our wounded servicemen and women make a powerful impact and example on youth and those who face similar circumstances,” said Capt. David Olson, USN (Ret.), who founded SCUBAnauts and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, which is based in Tarpon Springs, Florida. “Through these Challenge experiences, they demonstrate to others that despite their injuries, they too can overcome seemingly insurmountable personal challenges, while advancing rehabilitative research. ‘Challenge–Research–Inspire’ are the principals that govern our program.”
Mote’s Dr. Crosby sums up the mission this way: “Not only do these combat veterans and youth volunteers provide important support to Mote that helps accelerate the coral reef restoration work the organization has undertaken since 2006, they also inspire and challenge us all to do more in our shared mission of science-based conservation. Mote is built on a foundation of passion for science, partnerships with groups like the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and the SCUBAnauts, and philanthropic support for our research and education work. What we are all engaged in today is an exemplar of these foundational pillars, and should give us all hope and inspiration for the future.”
Support for this trip has been provided by:
Howard and Nancy Cobin. Howard Cobin is an Honorary MoteTrustee.
For 21 military veterans, the word “can’t” is the one thing they won’t be bringing with them to San Diego Harbor. Not willing to let injury or medical condition hold them back from the rest of their lives, these disabled veterans will take part in a novice sailing camp from Monday, May 4 to Wednesday, May 6 at the San Diego Yacht Club on Point Loma.
The Warrior Sailing Program was founded with a mission to introduce active military and disabled veterans to the sport of sailing, with opportunities ranging from introductory-level sailing to world- championship competition. Together with the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, these organizations give back the gift of competition, camaraderie and being a part of a unit.
Participants who need an inspiration won’t have to look far, as the program’s founder is Jen French, a Paralympic medalist. “The goal is to share the spirit of sailing with our military warriors and to teach them skills on the water and for a better quality of life,” French said.
The free program features adaptive technology brought in by the program and sailboats provided by San Diego Yacht Club, which will be hosting the program. Participants come from all branches of the military and have varying injuries that range from limb loss, traumatic brain injuries and post- traumatic stress disorder, to name a few.
“Sailing is an inclusive sport and community,” stated French. “There is a restorative, healing process that sailing provides, and it also gives them a chance to flex their competitive muscles.”
Participants will sail together in teams of three on J-22 sailboats, with each team having an on-board professional coach. The basic training camp is the West Coast debut of the program.
For yacht club commodore John Laun, this program is the perfect way for his group to use its resources and sport knowledge to give back to the community that has served this country.
“The San Diego Yacht Club is very proud to host the Warrior Sailing Program’s basic training camp,” Laun said. “Hopefully, many of the participants will find sailing and racing enjoyable, and all will certainly benefit from the lessons in leadership skills, teamwork and self-reliance learned on a sailing race course.”
Camp graduates will learn about local sailing opportunities through yacht club outreach and the Challenged Sailors San Diego (www.challengedsailors.org). Select graduates will join the Warrior Sailing Team to learn advanced racing skills and compete in open racing events and those for the disabled across the country and around the world, including the US Disabled National Championship in San Diego Aug. 27 through 29.