Mote scientists work to restore coral reefs in the Florida Keys

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In the waters off Key West, a bare underwater landscape is the new "normal."

Many have grown accustomed to it, but not Peter Rosasco who remembers how it used to be.

"It was just like swimming in an aquarium. Everything was alive and beautiful," he said.

Peter's family has lived in the Keys since the late 1800's.

In the late 1980's he noticed a drastic change to the coral.

"You'd go out there and it was just a big dead white rock. It actually became sickening," he said.

Around the world coral reef systems began dying off.

Coral bleaching, high water temperatures and pollution are a few of the reasons.

"The stress that our coral reefs are now in is to the point that any further can really push them past a tipping point in which they will no longer able to recover on their own," said Dr. Michael Crosby.

For years, scientists with Mote Marine Laboratory have tried to come up with a solution.

About five years ago they discovered something amazing.

"We can replant corals that are dying. It was predicted if we kept going this way with excess Carbon Dioxide from fossil fuels we may not have any corals within the next 25 to 50 years. We are going to make sure we have corals, but we also have to make sure over the next 25 to 50 years that we stop putting extra carbon into the atmosphere so that the corals can get back to the stage where they had a wonderful environment to live in," said Dr. Vaughan.

At Summerland Key, they are growing and reproducing several types of corals that have been dying off.

The coral is then planted in areas where reefs are in trouble.

At Fort Zachery Taylor Park in Key West, they're using the coral to create a man-made reef system.

"It's a spot where they planted a breakwater because there weren't corals there to protect the beach," said Dr. Vaughan.

They've planted more than 5,000 coral fragments and they're seeing success.

But the scientists say any lasting success will require change.

"The rest of the public now need to realize we are really killing our corals with every molecule with Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere," said Dr. Vaughan.

It the change comes fast enough, scientists are certain these reefs can flourish again.

"The speed of which this is occurring and the quality of whats being placed out there is truly amazing. It's truly science at it's best in my opinion," said Rosasco.