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Wounded Army veterans are working on a remarkable project to save our coral reefs: 'Such a blessing'

"The dives have been instrumental in my recovery."

The Mote Marine Laboratory working to restoring Floridian coral reefs.

Photo Credit: iStock

The Mote Marine Laboratory, alongside the nonprofit Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge (CWVC), is helping veterans and the environment by putting wounded vets to work restoring Floridian coral reefs.

The two organizations have joined forces for one week each year since 2011, giving veterans the opportunity to join lab employees in the water, according to EuroNews

In Key West, off the coast of Florida, veterans plant coral underwater to help restore the reefs. Divers place fragments of coral that were grown in a lab into underwater nurseries. The divers also apply epoxy resin to the reef and clean debris and algae off of unhealthier parts of the reef — the full fleet of divers plants over 1,000 corals in just over an hour.

The reefs need to be restored because warming waters and disease outbreaks threaten the coral's health, which means that a vital part of underwater ecosystems is in crisis due to the dangerous overheating of the planet. 

Coral reefs are essential to keeping fish populations alive, so when the reefs are unhealthy, so are the fish populations. The UK's Natural History Museum estimates that up to 500 million people worldwide rely on coral reefs for "food, jobs, and coastal [defense]."

"In two years, three years, we will have created [the equivalent of] a 50-year-old coral that then will be able to spawn on its own," said Mote lab president Michael Crosby.

Researchers also observe and study the veterans so they can gather information to improve the quality of treatments for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and head trauma.

Billy Costello, a veteran diver who formerly served in the Army's 3rd Special Forces Group, said the dives "have been instrumental in my recovery, helping me learn what I was going to be able to do after losing my leg."

"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," he said.

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