HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami) – Florida is the only state in the U.S. that has extensive shallow coral reef formations near its coasts and Nova Southeastern University wants to make sure this unique Florida resource is protected.
Thursday was the grand opening of NSU'S new $50 million coral reef research center, the largest and only research facility in the nation solely dedicated to coral reef ecosystems research.
Former Vice President Al Gore spoke at Thursday's opening. He'll tour the 86,000-square-foot facility located at NSU's Oceanographic Center at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, then speak at the 3:30 p.m. grand opening ceremony.
U.S. Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston), who helped NSU secure a $15 million federal stimulus grant to fund the center, as well as other dignitaries, participated in the grand opening ceremony as well.
The South Florida center focuses on protecting coral reefs in South Florida and around the world and will cultivate coral species in nurseries for re-introduction to the ocean. Florida is home to most of the nation's coral reefs and the study of coral reef ecosystems is vital to the protection of our oceans.
"By opening this state-of-the-art facility, NSU is taking a leadership role in Florida's marine science research and helping boost an important multibillion-dollar coral reef industry that employs thousands of South Floridians and sustains many small businesses," said NSU President George L. Hanbury II, Ph.D. "The research Center is critical for the environmental sustainability of coral reefs, which are the life blood of our region and oceans, and their ecosystems."
Hanbury went on a special dive along with CBS 4 News and other agencies early Thursday morning to see some of the underwater nurseries NSU researchers have been cultivating off the shores of Fort Lauderdale. Twenty feet underwater researchers delicately attach pieces of the threatened Staghorn coral to concrete slabs.
"We built a coral nursery to help bring back the coral population," said Liz Larson, NSU Senior Research Assistant. "From one single branch that we put down in one year we get approximately three additional branches that we can then clip and put back out onto the reef."
University officials said the center has created 22 new academic jobs, 300 construction jobs and will employ 50 graduate students.
Researchers will also study the effects of climate change on reefs and examine their ability to recover from damage.
The center is part of Nova's Oceanographic Institute which was started in 1966. The institute has a number of research units which study various fields of marine life including sharks. Recently, the institute successfully grew more than two dozen basketball sized staghorn corals at their inland nursery and transplanted them onto a threatened reef about three miles north of Port Everglades.
The Center's location in Hollywood is important because 84 percent of the nation's reefs are located in Florida. Local South Florida businesses like dive shops, restaurants, hotels, gift shops, boat tours, cruises, and big and small business owners depend on those reefs for their livelihoods.
From fishing to diving to boating, the reef's ecosystems bring in about $6 billion in Florida and help maintain approximately 71,000 jobs.
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