If you dive or snorkel, you probably already appreciate the importance of coral – the lustrous, living organisms that foster so much sub-sea life.

Late summer in the Florida Keys is especially compelling. Come see an extraordinary annual ritual as boulder and branching corals release millions of gametes (eggs and sperm) into the water. August and September’s full moons trigger the event, an event that is critical to the survival of the reefs themselves – especially brain and star corals, and the protected Elkhorn and Staghorn varieties.

These spectacular white excretions spread eggs and sperm in massive amounts over a wide area. That ups the chances of fertilization. It also overwhelms predators with more food than they can handle. When egg and sperm get together, they form larvae – planula. Those float to the surface of the sea off the Keys and eventually settle to the ocean floor, where they grow into a polyp. That’s how coral colonies form.

If you dive or snorkel, keep Wednesday, Aug. 1, Friday, Aug. 31 and Saturday, Sept. 29 in mind. There’s no guarantee the show will happen on these exact dates, but they’re as good as any for planning purposes. There are lots of savvy dive operators in the Keys who have a feel for the timing of all this. They’ve scheduled night dives around those dates already.

The 120-mile-long Florida Keys island chain is the site of this country’s sole living-coral barrier reef. It runs the length of the Keys, just about five miles offshore. Most of the good dive sites are fitted with mooring buoys. Those protect the reef from being gouged by anchors. Instead of going out solo, your best bet is to link up with one of the area’s professional dive operators. They know the lay of the sub-sea surface, and make it a point to emphasize your safety – as well as that of the coral.

(Image: Paul Mannix)

About the author

Jerry ChandlerJerry Chandler loves window seats – a perch with a 35,000-foot view of it all. His favorite places: San Francisco and London just about any time of year, autumn in Manhattan and the seaside in winter. An award-winning aviation and travel writer for 30 years, his goal is to introduce each of his grandkids to their first flight.

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