On Friday, 29-year-old marine biologist Colin Foord took scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), and upstate St. Petersburg’s Pier Aquarium out in his 1969 Boston Whaler to a sea wall on the Fisher Island side of Government Cut, the lane through which, every day, enormous cruise ships and shipping vessels travel to and from the Port of Miami.
The scientists had all crowded into Foord’s boat to see with their own eyes what Foord could not believe he was seeing with his two years earlier during one of his regular excursions through Miami’s inner city waterways: a hybrid coral of the genus Acropora that is rarely seen in South Florida waters, let alone in the harsh H2O of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the country.
“I’ve never seen a hybrid anywhere off the coast of Florida, and I’ve done thousands of dives,” says Foord, who is half of the duo behind Coral Morphologic, a Miami-based “scientific art endeavor” that conducts research in its Overtown laboratory, creates gorgeous imagery of coral via HD videography and site-specific projection, and raises money for coral restoration through its record label, Discosoma Records, which releases limited-edition vinyl records from South Floridian musicians.
“These researchers have not seen them here in Florida,” Foord adds. “They’ve heard of people finding them … but here in Florida they’re virtually absent.”
The scarcity of the coral — a hybrid of the Elkhorn and Staghorn species, both critically endangered branching corals formerly common to the Caribbean Sea — helps to explain Foord’s response when he first spotted it.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Oh my God’,” he says. “I thought it was a species from another ocean that someone had planted there.”