What is Rescue a Reef?

The University of Miami’s coral restoration program is a citizen science project designed to support coral reef research and restoration activities to restore local staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) populations on Miami’s coral reefs. Rescue A Reef expeditions are led by UM researchers, and provide a unique, hands-on education experience for recreational divers and snorkelers to participate in coral restoration efforts. Our mission is to educate and engage the local community, increase scientific literacy in coastal and coral reef conservation, and foster ocean stewardship.

Become a Citizen Scientist with Rescue a Reef!

Join us for a day of coral research and restoration on the beautiful coral reefs of South Florida! Learn about coral reef conservation and work alongside UM researchers as they create a sustainable source of staghorn coral for use in reef restoration activities. Visit the coral nursery to gather fragments and help plant these new corals onto nearby wild reefs. This is your chance to dive into coral restoration at the University of Miami with SRC!

Trip Details:


  • Our half-day research expeditions (8am-1pm) depart from Key Biscayne, FL and include two shallow water dives (scuba or snorkel) led by UM researchers.
  • Opportunities for Q&A with coral reef experts before and after dives.
  • Snacks and water are provided.
  • SKILL REQUIREMENT: Scuba divers must be Open Water certified; snorkelers must be capable swimmers and comfortable swimming in up
    to 30 feet of water. All participants must be at least 18 years of age.
  • We offer trips for individuals, corporate groups, and private charters.
For more information or to reserve your spot on a Rescue A Reef expedition, please contact us at RescueAReef@gmail.com.

Staghorn corals are important coral reef engineers, providing essential habitat for many other reef organisms. Unfortunately, coral populations have drastically declined and are threatened with extinction due to climate change, pollution, disease, overfishing, and habitat destruction.
The University of Miami’s coral restoration project, in collaboration with the Shark Research & Conservation Program, focuses on propagating threatened Caribbean staghorn coral in underwater coral nurseries. Nursery-reared corals are then outplanted to local reefs to enhance local staghorn populations and promotes natural recovery.

Follow us on social media

Instagram: @rescueareef

Twitter: @rescueareef

Learn how Rescue A Reef works

Rescue A Reef Promo from Shark Conservation Research @ UM on Vimeo.

  • The day begins at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science dock at Virginia Key, FL. The coral restoration team is already hard at work, loading the research gear onto the large dive boat. We then complete a short checklist, ensure all paperwork is in order, and then depart into the blue ocean.

  • Meet the lead scientists at Rescue a Reef – Dr. Diego Lirman (Associate Professor) and Stephanie Schopmeyer (Senior Research Associate II). They are both experts in the coral restoration process, and have published numerous scientific publications on the topic.

  • Enjoy a relaxing boat ride out to the coral reefs!

  • The first step in the coral restoration process is to collect small samples (about 5cm branches) from wild coral colonies. It’s similar to propagating a plant in your garden.

  • The next step is to allow these little corals to grow in our coral nursery, usually doubling in size every two months. We often use these ‘trees’ made from PVC pipes to hang the individual corals, allowing for plenty of water and nutrient flow.

  • Once the corals have grown enough, we again break off little segments to outplant at a restoration site. Using masonry nails as the support, the corals are put into place and labeled according to their genotype.

  • Here you can see a freshly outplanted coral with its color-coded ziptie.

  • Within one month, the coral will grow new tissue around the nail and start to skirt onto the surrounding sediment.

  • Once the coral has established a strong base, it is now a solid structure and part of the reef.

  • The ultimate goal of this work is to restore the staghorn coral colonies back to a healthy population size. Here is one of our success stories – a restored site four years after outplanting!

Donation Instructions

Donations to Rescue A Reef help fund the ongoing effort to restore staghorn corals to local reefs in South Florida. Any donation amount is helpful and greatly appreciated!

Here is how your donations contribute to coral reef restoration:

$10+: Funds the outplanting of one nursery-reared staghorn coral to a local reef

$100: Funds the outplanting of 10 nursery-reared staghorn corals to a local reef

$1,000: Your donation will support the outplanting of 100 corals onto a local reef! As a thank you, you will have the opportunity to name your rescued site!

Step 1

Click the ‘Rescue a Reef’ Button here.

Step 2

Decide on your donation package, and write it in the amount box.

Step 3

Under designation drop-down menu, select “Rescue A Reef Program Fund”

Step 4

IMPORTANT! Email us at RescueAReef@gmail.com to learn more about the next steps in the donation process.

Tax Deductible — The University of Miami is a Florida not-for-profit corporation and all donations are tax deductible as appropriate by law.

Thank you

SRC and Rescue a Reef would like to thank our partners for the continued support of this program:

More Questions?

For more information about Rescue A Reef or the Shark Research & Conservation Program, please contact us at:

Dalton Hesley
Email: RescueAReef@gmail.com
Phone: 305-421-4209

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