Florida Keys

Tourists likely to help pay for reef-restoration projects

Costs of replanting corals, including elkhorn, would be partially funded by Tourist Development Council revenues under a proposal reaching the Monroe County Commission this week.
Costs of replanting corals, including elkhorn, would be partially funded by Tourist Development Council revenues under a proposal reaching the Monroe County Commission this week. Keynoter

Visitors who come to the Florida Keys to see coral reefs may help fund reef restoration projects.

Two nonprofit organizations based in the Keys are requesting about $302,500 to help transplant tens of thousands of small corals nurtured in underwater nurseries.

Monroe County commissioners, meeting Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center, will decide on recommendations for spending some of the Tourist Development Council taxes levied on visitor accommodations for the underwater projects.

The projects have been endorsed by regional TDC advisory committees that allocate tax money collected in their areas. Typically, the proposed grants cover about half the cost on the coral-transplant work.

Staghorn corals, the most successful of corals grown and cemented tor reefs, account for the bulk of the restoration efforts but elkhorn and boulder corals also are being transplanted in higher numbers.

The Coral Restoration Foundation, a Key Largo organization that pioneered the culturing of staghorn corals, is recommended to received $206,500 for five areas. Of those, $112,500 would go toward work at Key Largo’s Molasses Reef, Grecian Rocks, North Carysfort Reef and Pickles Reef.

Other CRF work is slated for Marathon reefs at Sombrero Light, Delta Shoal and Coffin Patch at county-funded cost of $36,000.

The group also seeks $24,500 for corals at Looe Key; $15,500 for Little Conch Reef off Islamorada; and $18,000 for Western Sambo Reef and Marker 32 off Key West.

Mote Marine Laboratory, with a research center on Summerland Key, seeks $92,000 for half the cost of a project at Sand Key and Eastern Dry Rocks off Key West, and $54,000 for a Looe Key project.

Uses of bed-tax money is restricted to certain expenses. Monroe County was the first to seek state approval to spend tourist-tax money on “marine parks,” which now allows spending on reef restoration.

Other visitor-friendly organizations including the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Island Dolphin Care, the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum and the Key West Customs House are recommended to receive partial TDC funding for facility upgrades or new exhibits.

Theater upgrades

One of the largest building projects endorsed for TDC funding in the new fiscal year is refurbishment of the Tennessee Williams Theater at the Florida Keys Community College campus on Stock Island.

Key West advisers recommended $600,000 to cover half the $1.2 million cost of replacing the theater’s main stage and 603 seats, along with acoustic and other technical improvements.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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