As Super Bowl weekend approaches, several organizations have partnered up for a football-themed restoration project that aims to bring Miami's coral reefs back to life.
"These 100 yards of hope are so important, because it's going to illustrate the potential of large-scale coral reef restoration," said Dalton Hesley of University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Research.
South Florida's coral reefs are difficult to spot from above, though they have a significant impact on the area's economy.
Sadly, parts of the reef have withered away, but 30 feet below the surface, delicate restoration work is being carried out: the NFL, the University of Miami, the Florida Aquarium and the Frost Museum have all teamed up with military veterans to help save them.
"It's very important because a lot of our veterans joined because they are called to serve, and we want to continue to serve," said Steve 'Gonzo' Gonzalez, who spent 34 years working as a Navy seal.
Now, Gonzalez is a diver with Force Blue, a group that brings together marine researchers and military veterans. "Force Blue’s mission is very important to us, because it allows us to do that: to serve our county, to serve our planet in a continued effort to care for it," Gonzalez explained.
To help with the restoration project, Gonzalez and his teammates take corals that have been harvested by the Florida Aquarium, the Frost Museum and Secore International and place them in carefully-selected spots underwater.
They're currently working about 11 miles from the Port of Miami, east and south of the shoreline. The University of Miami's Rosenstiel School is spearheading operations, and choosing various locations one by one to lay down thousands of corals of multiple species.
The project launched during last year's Super Bowl, which was held at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
"All of Florida's coral reefs, as well as the reefs around the world, are so, so important to our livelihoods, whether it's coastal protection, food on tables, or jobs for our neighbors," said Hensley.
"This is an economic driver that sustains us, and will really be important for our future generations. What we do today could actually impact how we restore the future of these coral reefs."