Underwater war fighters save more than coral reefs

Phil Briggs
October 04, 2018 - 9:56 am

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The coral reefs off the coast of Florida are home to many beautiful and endangered species. They provide protection for our coastlines, habitats for marine organisms and produce nutrients essential for our oceans to sustain life. 

But coral reefs around the world are under continuous attack by pollution, illegal fishing practices, disease, warming oceans and destructive hurricanes.

Force Blue, a non-profit organization founded by vets with Marine Recon, Coast Guard and Army Special Operations backgrounds, has created a mission which is helping the coral reefs survive and veterans thrive.

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“I came to this from the marine conservation side,” explained Force Blue, co-founder Jim Ritterhoff.  “When we started the program years ago it was largely because my friend Rudy Reyes, had a hard time assimilating after returning from multiple combat deployments. (Reyes, a former Special Operations, Recon Marine made several combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan) I had a chance to take him diving and show him a healthy coral reef but explained the devastation reefs are experiencing worldwide.   We quickly realized that we had found something for our Special Operations veterans who are looking for a positive mission.”

CBS News recently documented their efforts to repair damaged coral reefs.  The dying reefs needed seedlings carefully replanted and giant pieces of coral ripped apart by hurricanes needed to be repositioned. "It's really warrior stuff, a warrior takes action and that's what we're doing with Force Blue," Reyes told CBS.

PODCAST: Interview with Force Blue founders Jim Ritterhoff and Sean Moore

Ritterhoff added "In conservation, we tend to preach to the choir.  Everybody that does know what’s happening to our oceans already cares.  But we need to get more people involved.  And this is a great way to do that.  Maybe people wouldn’t listen to another climate change scientist, but they’ll listen when it’s Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Recon Marines because these guys are our heroes.”

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But the damaged reef is not the only thing that is coming back to life.

Reyes told CBS "I was struggling with alcohol and substance abuse and in general massive amounts of depression.”

Army Green Beret Sean Moore added, “I’ve seen the moral injury from PTSD … the regret of death and the things you did or don’t do.  For me, it was also stagnation. Going from something that has a huge over-arching purpose to the civilian world, where I had no mission.  Force Blue was able to give us a mission and I know that’s shared by all the guys on the team. And now I know I’ll be doing this now forever … this is my career.”

As their dive missions continue to preserve and restore essential reefs, Ritterhoff sums it up best by saying, “Are 7 guys transplanting coral and learning about marine conservation going to change the world by themselves? No. But what they have the opportunity to do is become a force multiplier and tell people who otherwise wouldn’t listen, or wouldn’t care, because of their status we can create this mercenary force for good.”

To learn more about Force Blue click here.

 

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