- Associated Press - Sunday, July 16, 2017

KEY LARGO, Fla. (AP) - Astronauts are helping coral grow on the ocean floor off Florida.

Marine scientists at Florida International University are studying corals growing in deep waters. The Miami-area school reported recruiting NASA astronauts to plant a coral nursery 90 feet (27 meters) below the ocean’s surface in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

NASA trains astronauts at FIU’s Aquarius Reef Base, an underwater laboratory in the sanctuary. FIU researcher Mauricio Rodriguez-Lanetty said dives from the surface would be too short and risky to accomplish much in the nursery. But divers living in the pressurized lab for days or weeks at a time can work longer in deeper waters.

Astronauts planted the endangered corals on tree-like structures made from plastic pipes in 2015. They’ve continued working in the nursery during NASA training missions over the last two years.

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