National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to Receive $1 Million to Support Urgent Coral Rescue and Restoration in Florida Keys

Silver Spring, Md. – August 31, 2023 – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will receive approximately $1 Million in funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)’s National Coastal Resilience Fund to support an immediate emergency response to the record-breaking marine heat wave and resulting coral reefs in crisis in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  

Due to a marine heat wave, water temperatures in the Florida Keys are averaging ~89.5°F (~32°C), with reports of spikes as high as ~91.5 °F (33°C), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Coral experts are taking action in response to coral bleaching events and widespread coral mortality. This ongoing heat wave poses a grave threat to these fragile ecosystems and the marine life they support, as well as the communities, jobs, and economy that depend on this national treasure. 

In partnership with NOAA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is rallying a rapid response to this coral crisis alongside Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and many of our Mission: Iconic Reefs partners, including Mote Marine Lab, Coral Restoration Foundation, Reef Renewal USA, The Reef Institute, and Florida Sea Base (Boy Scouts of America).  

“The Foundation is grateful to NFWF and all our coral restoration partners in Florida for deploying immediate rescue efforts to report on and respond to the marine heat wave. The urgency of the situation requires immediate and coordinated action, and we cannot do this alone. Together, we are planning for continued resilience and restoration efforts through Mission: Iconic Reefs,” said Joel R. Johnson, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  

The funding will support a multi-pronged approach for coral rescue and recovery at key reef sites and coral nurseries in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Conservation organizations are rescuing at-risk corals and relocating them to land-based facilities, where they will be nurtured while record-high temperatures persist. Partners will also be preserving endangered and threatened coral species by building a “coral ark” of “founders” corals that can seed future restoration efforts. Funding will also support activities where corals cannot be moved ashore, to minimize stressors by moving the corals into deeper, cooler waters. Additional monitoring and analysis of reef responses will follow, in order to understand the severity of the bleaching and identify areas that were more resilient to guide future restoration efforts. 

“This emergency funding will provide critical support for the many groups in the Florida Keys working to rescue and care for these corals,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Without this funding and the quick actions of these groups, we would not have the opportunity to rebuild and recover these reefs that form important habitat for marine life and offer critical protection for coastal communities.” 

“As soon as this crisis hit, the sanctuary and coral practitioners sprang into action to rescue corals with only the hope that funding for their emergency response would be covered,” said Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman. “I’m grateful for the generosity of this grant, which will cover those initial expenses, plus future assessment cruises and the ongoing costs associated with saving the reefs that are so integral to the lives and livelihoods of the Florida Keys.”    

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of the response effort and there is still a lot of work to be done. Additionally, these climate-related events are expected to become more frequent and rampant; to that end, the Foundation is working across partners to understand how to best prepare for the future. The Foundation and its partners are continuing to assess opportunities for additional aid to support the response efforts in the Florida Keys.  

To learn more about the ongoing marine heatwaves, visit


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve cultural and maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at 

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is one of 16 marine protected areas that make up the National Marine Sanctuary System. Administered by NOAA, a federal agency, and jointly managed with the State of Florida, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 3,800 square miles of waters surrounding the Florida Keys, from south of Miami westward to encompass the Dry Tortugas, excluding Dry Tortugas National Park. The shoreward boundary of the sanctuary is the mean high-water mark, which means once you set foot in Keys waters, you have entered the sanctuary. Learn more  

Mission: Iconic Reefs is a large-scale, NOAA-led coral restoration initiative within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to restore seven ecologically and culturally significant coral reefs to self-sustaining levels by 2040. Launched in late 2019, the unprecedented effort is a collaboration with world-renowned scientists, local restoration partners, academia, industry, and federal and state agencies.  


Contact: Chip Weiskotten 

Director of Strategic Communications