May 16, 2018

KEVIN GAINES/Coral Restoration Foundation
Ken Nedimyer checks out young staghorn corals cultured on underwater 'trees.' Nedimyer plans to perform more overseas work after stepping down from the Coral Restoration Foundation he founded in 2007.

KEVIN GAINES/Coral Restoration Foundation Ken Nedimyer checks out young staghorn corals cultured on underwater 'trees.' Nedimyer plans to perform more overseas work after stepping down from the Coral Restoration Foundation he founded in 2007.

KEY LARGO — The Coral Restoration Foundation, a rare bright spot in efforts to preserve the Florida Keys living reef, no longer has founder Ken Nedimyer at the helm.

Earlier this year, Nedimyer stepped down from his leadership role at the Upper Keys nonprofit foundation, whose coral nursery and reef restoration projects he has guided for more than a decade.

“It was time to move on,” Nedimyer, 62, said last week. “I haven’t abandoned [the foundation], but the only way to move forward was to quit. It’s hard to leave something you started, but I was slipping into a role where I was not able to fully pursue my passions.

“I left on good terms and will be doing a lot of the same things,” he added. “I’m not trying to make waves; there was no nastiness.”

Nedimyer and wife Denise have established a new corporation, Reef Renewal, to guide other countries trying to rebuild their coral reefs.

“A lot of places internationally were approaching us, asking for help to replicate what we accomplished in the Keys,” Nedimyer said. “The foundation did some of that, but it was difficult because of costs, liabilities and other things.”

The Nedimyers recently returned from the Grenadines in the Lesser Antilles and will be in Australia later this summer to help launch the first coral nursery project there.

“Every country we go to, we have to use the local corals,” he said. “We go out and look for corals and see what survives. Then we do what we did here in the Keys. We’ve kind of perfected a way to grow large numbers of corals out there.”

While maintaining his Upper Keys underwater lease to culture live rock for the aquarium trade in the mid-1990s, Nedimyer realized that a coral spawn deposited tiny staghorn polyps onto his base rock.

He left the corals in place where they grew quickly. In 2003, the first corals were cemented to a damaged area at Molasses Reef with approval of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. All the replanted staghorn survived.

The success led to expanded underwater nurseries that grew coral on cement disks and underwater “trees.” The Coral Restoration Foundation was created in 2007 to further the work.

Nedimyer was named a CNN Hero in 2012, and two years later was tapped as a Disney Conservation Hero and Scuba Diving magazine’s Sea Hero of the Year. He also served several terms as chairman of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

The CRF “grew into a strong operation that’s done great things,” Nedimyer said. “I’m very proud of what we accomplished. … Now they don’t need me there day to day.”

He plans to serve as a consultant and contractor with the foundation when possible. 

CRF Chief Executive Officer Scott Winters praised Nedimyer for his contributions.

“The pioneering work of our founder, Ken Nedimyer, will forever be honored and celebrated at the Coral Restoration Foundation,” Winters said. “It is thanks to Ken’s vision of restoring the beautiful coral reefs of the Florida Reef Tract that we at the Coral Restoration Foundation are now able to take this important work to the next level. …

“We are very lucky to continue to have him as an ongoing resource and active collaborator, working with us to continue new techniques and methods for corals in the Florida Keys.”

Nedimyer and wife plan to continue to live in Tavernier.

“We love the Keys and want to help the reef come back,” he said. “There are some areas I’m very passionate about, and the work we’re doing with CRF will play into that.

“We don’t know what the future holds or how big [Reef Renewal] will get, but we’re happy and doing a lot of cool things.

“There’s not a lot of time to waste,” Nedimyer said of worldwide concern on coral survival. “The urgency is overwhelming.”

kwadlow@keysnews.com