Ken Nedimyer has long been the coral whisperer of the Florida Keys. He was the first to grow threatened staghorn and elkhorn corals on a large scale, with many of his colonies providing the living elements for reef restoration work in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
On Friday, CNN named Nedimyer, founder and president of the Key Largo-based Coral Restoration Foundation, a CNN Hero for his pioneering efforts to develop techniques to preserve and rear coral colonies.
The network describes CNN Heroes as everyday people changing the world, dedicating their lives to giving back to communities, defending the planet by protecting the environment, helping others overcome obstacles or solving problems in a unique way.
Nedimyer hopes the award will bring greater awareness to the plight of the world's coral colonies, which have seen significant declines in the past 20 years.
"There is hope," Nedimyer said. "It's nice to focus on taking it back, instead of watching it go."
More than 10,000 nominations are made each year from about 100 countries around the world, according to CNN spokeswoman Shimrit Sheetrit. About 25 to 30 heroes are profiled, she said, and the Top 10 are chosen at the end of the year by CNN's editorial board to appear in a special CNN presentation with each finalist receiving a $50,000 grant.
One of the honorees, to be selected by fans across the world in the fall, will be named CNN Hero of the Year, which comes with a $250,000 grant.
Gary Yoss of Wellington, who saw Nedimyer's coral plantings on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, nominated Nedimyer.
Nedimyer began coral restoration research about 10 years ago after being involved in tropical fish collecting other aquaculture work in the Keys.
His group, the Coral Restoration Foundation, has a 1-acre coral nursery in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo. The group currently is rearing 23,000 clippings that range in length from 2 to 15 inches. The clippings eventually will be transplanted to nearby reefs to grow to independent colonies serving as habitat for tropical fish, and subsequently to reproduce to add further reef growth.
Nedimyer has built an extensive community outreach component to his work, often involving high school and college students in his coral projects. He also offers local dive shops and lodges dive trips to his nursery, allowing them to assist with the effort.
"We are developing a concept we can take to other countries as well," he said. "We're putting Key Largo and the Keys on the map as a community that got together and did something about [restoring coral]."
Nedimyer plans to take a group of Coral Shores and Island Christian high school students to his Upper Keys nursery on Wednesday, and will be lecturing and taking Florida Keys Community College students to a coral nursery off Key West on Saturday.
Nedimyer's group can be found on the Internet at www.coralrestoration.org.