Ken Nedimyer

Ken Nedimyer, founder and president of the Coral Restoration Foundation, is a long time resident of the Florida Keys. Born in Xenia Ohio, he grew up along the east coast of Florida and has spent most of his life in and around the ocean. His passion for ocean life became more focused on coral reefs when, as a young boy, he set up his first salt water aquarium and stocked it with fish he caught while snorkeling along the shore in the Florida Keys. That snorkeling experience led to a dive certification in 1970, a bedroom full of salt water aquariums, and lifetime spent underwater.
While in high school in Central Florida, Ken fascination with reef habitats and fish led him to apply for and build an artificial reef in the Indian River Lagoon to study fish recruitment. At the time he was the youngest person to ever apply for an Army Corps of Engineers permit for an artificial reef.
Ken started moving south from Central Florida in 1976 when he enrolled in Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. During the summers of 1976, 1977, and 1978 Ken spent the first half of the summer working at Seacamp on Big Pine Key teaching marine science classes, and the second half of diving for lobsters to help pay for college. He completed his bachelor’s degree in biology in spring of 1978, and after a summer of teaching at Seacamp and diving for lobsters, he moved to the Upper Keys where he spent three years working at mariculture facility.
In 1981 Ken met Denise, his wife to be, and together they started a business collecting and selling marine life. During his time as a marine life fisherman, Ken got involved in fisheries management at the state and federal levels, and played an active role in developing the state fishery management plan for the marine life fishery, the federal fishery management plan for octocorals, and the state and federal live rock aquaculture plans.
In the early 1990’s Ken got involved in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, and has served on the council since. Ken served as vice chair for the council from 2008 to 2012, and started serving as the council chair in 2012.
In 1994, while still an active marine life fisherman, Ken received the first live rock aquaculture permit to be issued on the East Coast of the United States, and the first one to be issued in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Within a year of starting the rock farm he began to see coral colonies appearing on the rocks, which led him to start thinking or other potential uses for the site, including using the site for research projects, and using it to grow native corals.
Ken’s journey from a commercial fisherman to a coral reef advocate started in the 1980’s, when as a fisherman he observed the reefs struggling with disease, coral bleaching, the mass mortality of sea urchins, and overfishing. By 1998 he realized that there were serious problems that needed to be addressed, so he began to look into things he could do. On land he began to get involved with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, the Coral Advisory Panel for the South Atlantic Council, and the Marine Life Workgroup for the Florida Fish and Wildlife commission. In the water, he began to work on long spine sea urchin restoration projects, and in 2002 he began working on developing an offshore coral nursery at his offshore live rock aquaculture farm. This offshore live rock farm/coral nursery, combined with his science background and his extensive experience diving the waters of the Keys gave him the inspiration to act on a unique opportunity to possibly change the future of coral reefs in the Florida Keys. This opportunity involved changing his commercial offshore coral nursery into a coral nursery dedicated to raising corals for reef restoration projects. It also involved developing better and better nursery techniques, training volunteers to help with the work, and developing effective ways to transplant the corals out onto the nearby reefs. His persistence and successes led to the formation of the non-profit called the Coral Restoration Foundation in 2007, and by 2009 he was able to retire from commercial fishing and dedicate all his time to developing ways to restore coral reefs. His private enterprise/commercial aquaculture approach to offshore coral farming and restoration has resulted in several innovative inventions for coral farming, and the development of one of the world’s largest offshore coral nurseries.
Ken’s reef restoration story doesn’t stop in the Florida Keys. In 2012 Ken began nursery programs in Colombia South America and Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles), and those programs are now producing thousands of corals per year which are being transplanted onto their local reefs. In 2014 Ken helped start another non-profit called the Coral Restoration Foundation International, and that company will be working on developing coral nursery and restoration programs throughout the Caribbean over the next five years.
Ken’s story and the results of his work resulted in him being given several prestigious awards, including being named as a 2012 CNN Hero for “Defending the Planet”, a Wyland ICON Award Recipient in 2013, SCUBA Diving Magazine’s “Sea Hero of the Year” for 2014, Disney Wildlife Fund Conservation Hero in 2014, and an “Award of Excellence” from the National Garden Clubs (for underwater gardening). Ken and the Coral Restoration Foundation have also been featured in countless media stories, including stories on CBS Evening News, ABC News, NBC News, Fox News, PBS News Hour, Al Jazeera, Chinese Television News (CTN), Korean Broadcasting Network (KBN), Wild Kingdom, BBC, and Discovery Science.

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