Bobbie Renfro, a sponge restoration specialist, toasts Kylie Smith, a coral restoration expert, before a sponge outplanting scuba dive in the Florida Keys. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels We’ve all heard about SpongeBob SquarePants , the mischievous yellow sponge cartoon character who lives in a pineapple on the seafloor. Now, meet Bobbie “Sponge Bobbie” Renfro, a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University in biological sciences and coral reef ecology, with a specialty in sponges, naturally! Quirky naming coincidences aside, her research is anything but kiddish or silly. In fact, it could prove to be a vital but often overlooked factor in coral restoration efforts. In the Florida Keys, a deadly coral disease , poor water quality, the climate crisis and other factors have put the reef in grave danger. The world’s third-largest barrier reef now has only 1-2% coral cover on its seafloor; traditionally, this measurement of reef surface covered by live stony coral hovers between 25 to 40%, NOAA reported. The governmental body estimated that 25% coral cover is necessary to support healthy reef ecosystem functions and maintain reef structure. As part of a $97 million phased project to halt the coral freefall, NOAA and its partners are […]

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