Ken Nedimyer, an Upper Keys–based director of Reef Renewal Foundation International, is globally recognized as a father of reef restoration, creating strategies and techniques to rebuild coral reefs around the world.
The organization oversees restoration efforts in the Caribbean nations of Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Vincent and the Cayman Islands. It also supports Pacific nurseries in Hawaii and French Polynesia, as well as Australia’s first offshore coral nursery.
Today, Nedimyer assists Reef Renewal USA, a local chapter of Reef Renewal International, through mentoring, technical training and fundraising.
Nedimyer oversees three regional coral nurseries in the Florida Keys: off Tavernier, Big Pine Key and Marathon. The three nurseries house 21 coral species with 1,000 genotypes.
The regional nurseries, and a network of temporary “pop-up” nurseries, provide coral for restoration projects at reef sites stretching from Eastern Dry Rocks to Carysfort Reef in the 2,900-nautical-square-mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Reef Renewal USA is one of many partners working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 20-year, $100 million Mission Iconic Reefs to restore seven Keys reef sites.
This year, Nedimyer is planning educational coral propagating workshops to be open to the public to engage Keys stakeholders such as retirees, students and residents.
“We’re super-efficient and cost-efficient; lean, mean and effective,” Nedimyer said. “We want to get locals involved so they can develop a sense of ownership of the reef.”
Nedimyer grew up in Titusville, Florida, and earned a biology degree at Florida Atlantic University. Initially working in tropical aquaculture, he later developed his own tropical fish wholesale business. Nedimyer also created robust fisheries management plans for the state of Florida and federal fisheries.
His perspective from 49 years of diving on more than 20,000 dives provides a unique knowledge of Keys reefs and their status.
Nedimyer was named a CNN Hero in 2012 for conservation innovation and efforts as founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation. Through his passion, he hopes to develop new restoration techniques and strategies to bring hope for future reefs in the Florida Keys.
Keys Traveler: When did you first come to the Florida Keys and why?
Ken Nedimyer: November 1969 to snorkel and dive with family at Bahia Honda State Park. I was in heaven. I’ve been in heaven since then.
KT: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
KN: I obviously love the underwater world of the Keys, from the mangroves to the deep reefs. Getting out on the water, away from the crowds, is my escape and passion.
KT: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?
KN: I was fortunate to dive and fish in the Keys when the reefs were still healthy and the fish were abundant. Seeing the decline caused me to rethink how I was spending my time and energy.
KT: How does that passion influence your work or profession?
KN: My work is a labor of love, so it’s easy to give 110% all the time. Most people get up in the morning and say, “I have to go to work today.” Me, I get up and say, “Oh good, I get to go to ‘work’ today.”
KT: What are some of the ways, personally or through your work, that you connect with and/or help protect the local environment and unique lifestyle?
KN: When I saw fish disappearing and the coral reefs dying, I started getting involved in things that might make a difference. I got involved with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and have served there since 1998. I also formed the Coral Restoration Foundation in 2007 and ran it for 10 years before leaving to form Reef Renewal Foundation International.
KT: What keeps you energized, challenged and focused on your path?
KN: The urgency of solving problems facing coral reefs. We’ve lost so much in just my lifetime, and if we don’t act now, we will not have any hope of restoring it. I’m energized by our successes and by the growing support we are receiving to expand our efforts.
KT: What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?
KN: To inspire others not just to want to restore coral reefs, but to care about the future of the world’s oceans and seas. If people would unplug from their world of entertainment and plug into a life that has meaning, big changes could happen.
KT: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
KN: There is hope, and one person can make a difference, especially to inspire others to make a difference with their lives.
KT: What’s your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?
KN: I love watching sunrises over the water every morning.
Nedimyer said his passion and escape is out on the water, away from the crowds. Image: Steve Panariello
Nedimyer diving among a staghorn coral thicket. He said he is energized by the successes in restoring reefs, although there remains much work to do.