Saving the reefs


Program initiated by Fishers resident teaches high school students how to help save the ecosystem

By Nancy Edwards

Living the American dream for many people involves a lucrative career, followed by retirement to relax and take up a hobby.

Not for Dave Wing.

The Fishers resident, 62, spent his remaining career years as chief accounting officer with United Airlines, yet he began to yearn for something else to do with his life. He retired in 2010.

“I asked myself, ‘Now what am I going to do?’” Wing said. “I’m not the person to sit down or play golf.”

Repurposing a life

In 2011, Wing read an article about a new program being offered at Harvard University. A group of Harvard professors started the Advanced Leadership Initiative with the purpose of recruiting retired, experienced leaders for a one-year fellowship designed to enable them to begin new careers with a greater impact on society than they had experienced in their first careers.

Those who attend the fellowship can choose from systematic problems ranging from poverty, global health and environmental degradation to basic education. Those with advanced degrees attend seminars on advanced leadership and develop a plan for an area that interests them.

The following year, Wing was accepted into the fellowship program. Education appealed to him, as did the preservation of coral reefs, which affect not only animals in the sea, but also the world’s climate.

Wing needed to connect with someone who had experience in marine biology to develop an idea for a new career. He was introduced to David Makepeace, 64, a resident of the northern Florida Keys who retired from 33 years of teaching marine science to high school students.

Wing and Makepeace founded Project Coral Rescue, a program for high school students taking honors marine science classes at Coral Shores High School and Island Christian School. The program, in its first year, is funded through cash donations, cash matches and reduced rates or free goods and services by both non-profit and for-profit organizations.

Saving the reefs

As part of the program, students scuba dive in the Florida Keys to witness the loss of coral reefs.

“We are teaching students why (the coral reefs are dying), biology and what is being done to preserve and protect what we have left,” Wing said.

Coral reefs make up one percent of the ocean’s total area and are often referred to as “the rainforests of the ocean,” according to Wing, because they are “a vibrant ocean ecosystem with a high degree of biological diversity. Their importance to ocean health is undeniable; about 25 percent of the fish species that live in the ocean today spend some portion of their lives in coral reefs.”

Students learn that activities such as boating, diving and fishing can directly damage corals, as well as polluting the water. Other dangers include carbon dioxide; the rapid growth of algae, which compete with corals for space; and global warming, which warms the water and causes coral bleaching.

“Bleaching is a process still not understood but it ultimately causes corals to lose access to nutrition and therefore causes them to starve and die,” Wing said.

The good news is that with the Coral Restoration Foundation’s help, the students are helping to rebuild coral reefs. The foundation began a method of coral restoration for two types of corals: staghorn and elkhorn. Coral fragments that are broken off from larger coral colonies are grown in an underwater nursery, also maintained by students.

Fragments that have reached an appropriate size are transplanted to bare areas of coral reefs using a material similar to putty, which sticks the coral fragment to the reef and hardens quickly in the water.

“The transplanted corals continue to grow wherever they are transplanted with a success rate of more than 90 percent,” Wing said.

Students have also learned that lionfish, a predatory and venomous breed that originated in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, have posed a significant danger to the ecosystem, eliminating up to 80 percent of other reef fishes. Lionfish, which are typically adopted and placed into aquariums, appear striking because of their red and white stripes and venomous dorsal spines. However, lionfish will attack most other types of fishes in an aquarium and have a voracious appetite. When they become too large, their owners usually do not want to kill them, and instead often throw them into the ocean.

How the ecosystem affects Indiana

Coastal parts of the U.S. are not the only areas affected by the poor ecosystem. A high rate of dying fish can drive up fish prices significantly. Also, according to Makepeace, fisheries are affected, and farmers must be careful about the use of fertilizer, which can impact the Mississippi River.

“Anything that goes on in and around the Mississippi River, any fertilizer that can get into the river, does directly impact coral reefs’ health,” Makepeace said. “So many things sustain us from the ocean: its food, its water and medicines discovered from marine sources, and the ocean provides jobs.”

Future generations can make the difference

Lindsay Bean, an eleventh-grader who attends Island Christian School in the northern part of the Keys, said her honors marine biology class has allowed her to learn in an interactive environment and understand that one person can make positive changes, which she enjoys.

“No matter where you’re from, everything you do does make a difference,” she said.

How you can help save the reefs

According to Dave Wing, founder of Project Coral Rescue, residents can improve survival prospects for coral reefs by:

  • Reducing personal carbon footprints wherever you live. Lowering carbon emissions slows the global warming and acidification of ocean waters, which are harmful to the coral reef environment.
  • Reducing the use of fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals, which wash into rivers and streams and directly harm corals when they spread into ocean shoreline waters.
  • Taking care not to touch or otherwise mechanically damage corals when snorkeling or diving, and not using suntan lotions in proximity to corals when visiting coastal areas on vacation. The lotion erodes the coral.
  • Always being a positive role model for the care and protection of natural resources, no matter where you live or vacation.
  • Not buying shells from stores; the shells are taken while mollusks are still alive in them.
  • Consuming lionfish, as the fish destroys much of what is in the ocean.
  • Supporting organizations such as Project Coral Rescue (

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