Restoration Innovation by Duke’s DEL-MEM Students


Coral Tree
Duke’s Del-MEM students build a coral nursery during a visit to South Florida’s Coral Restoration Center (CRC).  The CRC pioneered a nursery system designed to initiate reef replenishment to counter corals’ decline. From L-R are Del-Mem students Lee Ellen Carter, Lisa Appel, Rob Burton, Lynn Keller and Del-Mem Director Deb Gallagher.  Photo/Alyson Myers


It’s no secret that corals are in trouble.  They are dying at unprecedented rates from human activities. But Ken Nedimyer, a small business owner and lover of oceans, had an idea. Rather than sit passively and watch the marine animals go extinct, he pioneered an innovative restoration technique for two of Florida’s “endangered” corals: staghorn and elkhorn.  Duke’s DEL-MEM students  visited the Key Largo site.

Today, Ken is a CNN Hero and his organization, the Coral Restoration Center (, has received the Blue Business of the Year, but in 1994 he was just starting an aquaculture farm to grow corals on rocks for aquarium owners. In the process, he did something important. He transferred knowledge from a private sector activity to restoration of a valuable and endangered ecological system. Corals are home to one quarter of all fish, but they are threatened by poor water quality, careless boaters, a loss of herbivores that clean off damaging algae, and warmer ocean temperatures. They needed a problem solver, and Ken stepped up.

Ken’s idea was to start a nursery to grow corals then transplant them to the aquatic system.  Familiar with the marine environment, he understood the way corals spawn, establish and thrive.  Staghorn corals, for example, are a fast-growing, branching coral, but had experienced a 98% decline. Ken dove in to the challenge and experimented with different nursery systems: disk, line and tree. He tested and improved his ideas gaining financial support along the way. Today, the CRC has grown or recovered tens of thousands of staghorn and elkhorn corals, and Ken has received the Wyland ICON award.

Innovators like Ken offer important leadership on the deployment of private sector knowledge for environmental solutions. Aquatic environments, like the coral systems of South Florida, suffer from nutrient runoff, GHG, and loss of biodiversity. Isn’t it time we develop a culture of innovation to fix problems like these?  Solutions are often right in front of us if we think in new ways.