Coral Heroes: FORCE BLUE

Throughout the Coral Reef Conservation Program’s 20th Anniversary, we are highlighting Coral Heroes — individuals and organizations that have worked with the program and are making a real difference in coral reef conservation.

A diver working with a coral “tree” structure
A diver working with a coral “tree” structure (Jim Hellemn/FORCE BLUE)

The coral community is turning to active restoration methods to provide reefs with time to recuperate and become more resilient. Coral restoration has become a truly collaborative effort, encompassing academia, all levels of governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. One organization in particular has a special place in the restoration arena.

FORCE BLUE was established to unite Special Operations veterans with the marine conservation community for the benefit of both groups. Veterans are retrained and deployed on conservation, preservation, and restoration missions, receiving therapy while supporting local marine ecosystems.

“FORCE BLUE seeks to address two seemingly unrelated problems — the rapidly declining health of our oceans and marine resources and the difficulty far too many of our service men and women have in adjusting to civilian life once their service ends.” says Jim Ritterhoff, FORCE BLUE’s Executive Director and co-founder.

FORCE BLUE Training Director on deployment
FORCE BLUE Training Director Angelo Fiore on deployment. (FORCE BLUE)

FORCE BLUE’s deployments to date include the response to Hurricanes Irma in Florida and Maria in Puerto Rico, and the response to stony coral tissue loss disease in Florida. This year, FORCE BLUE is spearheading 100 Yards of Hope, a year-long coral reef restoration project honoring the National Football League’s 100th season and the nation’s military veterans. From the recent launch during Super Bowl LIV in Miami to the culmination at Super Bowl LV in Tampa, FORCE BLUE divers will work with scientists to restore a football field-length area of corals near Key Biscayne. NOAA has supported FORCE BLUE’s past hurricane response efforts, and is now supporting 100 Yards of Hope.

“100 Yards of Hope is really just that,” says Ritterhoff. “A very visible statement on behalf of Florida and our country as a whole that, if we’re willing to commit to it, we can save these national treasures — like Florida’s Coral Reef. I can’t think of a better partner than NOAA to be making that statement with.”

According to Jennifer Koss, director of the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, the feeling is mutual. "It is such a pleasure and honor to be partnering with FORCE BLUE again. Their efforts to unite the community of Special Operations veterans with the world of coral reef conservation for the betterment of both has been an inspiration to witness." reflects Koss. "Having interacted with several of the FORCE BLUE team members over the past couple of years, I realize just how phenomenally powerful this kind of partnership is. Coral reef ecosystems benefit from the superior skills these folks have and these vets have a new mission, providing positive, healing—if not transformative—experiences.”

We look forward to continuing this partnership with FORCE BLUE, and to tackling coral restoration together.

Follow the celebration on our Facebook and Twitter pages and the National Ocean Service Instagram page all year using the hashtag #NOAACoral20th.

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