Series 03: Why I care for coral reefs
by Mitch Carl
No matter which way you go, Omaha Nebraska is about as far away from the ocean as you can get in the US. I didn’t grow up dreaming of going to the ocean, in fact, I thought very little of the ocean world till I got my first fish. My first encounter with keeping a fish tank hooked me into the aquatic world.
My first tank with big and ugly Oscars led me to set up more and more tanks until my room was full of the sounds of pumps and bubbling water. I loved the challenge of keeping these fish happy in the environment that I created for them. From my freshwater beginnings, I eventually branched out and tried my first saltwater reef tank in my early 20’s and my passion for aquatics and corals, took off.
My experience as a hobbyist and my passion for corals, led me to pursue a career at my hometown zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. I had grown up going to the zoo a few times a year, but the thought of being an aquarist for a career never dawned on me until meeting a zoo aquarist at the fish store I was working at. From that encounter I learned about the job and determined that is exactly what I want to do with my life.
Photos: Top row, left: Mitch Carl, Curator of Aquatics, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium (Paul Selvaggio); mid: 1st SECORE workshop at the Rotterdam Zoo, 2005 (SECORE); right: 2nd field workshop in Puerto Rico 2007, Carl overseeing coral embryos in Kreisels (which were used back then; Ramon Villaverde). Bottom row, left: setting-up wet lab facilities with workshop participant and Charles Delbeek, Steinhart Aquarium, Guam, 2013 (Paul Selvaggio); mid: Carl giving a coral husbandry lecture, workshop Philippines, 2015 (Mike McCue), right: retrieving pre-conditioned coral settlement substrates during spawning training, Curaçao, 2016 (Paul Selvaggio).
I started at the zoo in 1997 and thought it was great that if you had a passion for a particular animal, the zoo really encouraged you to do whatever you could to help that animal. That could be setting up an exhibit for the public to enjoy and learn about or helping with conservation in the wild. The more coral species I took care of and propagated, the more passionate I got about them and the more I wanted to do for them. Right about the time I was starting to research what I could do to take my coral care and conservation to the next level, I saw an email from Dr. Dirk Petersen announcing the startup of SECORE and their first meeting at the Rotterdam Zoo. I had just begun to get interested in the sexual propagation of corals and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn and meet others who were interested in the same thing. I was fortunate enough to be one of two attendees from the US and found a kindred spirit in Dirk and others involved in SECORE.
After that meeting in 2005, the next year we followed that up with the legendary first SECORE trip to Puerto Rico. SECORE had shifted its focus from spawning corals in captivity to doing in situ spawning work and working with the majestic and endangered elkhorn coral. After my first spawning dive and observing the amazing underwater event, I was absolutely hooked on the thought of what we could do and accomplish to help this coral out. For the next 14 years, I've been around the world helping SECORE out on various coral reefs and have enjoyed every trip and have been ecstatic to watch every innovation and advancement we have made in order to repopulate the reefs with corals.
Photos: top row, left: setting up first generation of CRIBs (read more about Coral Rearing In Situ Basins), US Virgin Islands, 2017 (Paul Selvaggio); mid: spawning dive briefing, Carl at 12 o'clock position with tablet (Paul Selvaggio); right: SECORE and partners teaming up with CoralASSIST group (read more about CoralASSIST), led by James Guest, Palau, 2019 (Mike McCue). Bottom: Mitch Carl and Dirk Petersen, SECORE's CEO and founder, are partners, allies and friends to give coral reefs a future since 15 years (here in US VI, 2017; Paul Selvaggio).
SECORE's mission is to create and share the tools and technologies to sustainably restore coral reefs worldwide