Veterans are finding peace and purpose at the bottom of the ocean by helping to protect endangered coral reefs.

Force Blue is an organization that recruits former military members to go on scuba diving missions to plant, nourish, rescue, and preserve coral reefs along the coast of Florida.

Not only does the project help to protect underwater ecosystems, it has also proved to be particularly therapeutic for the veterans, many of whom struggle with PTSD or depression.

Force Blue co-founder Jim Ritterhoff told Geek that he first got the idea for the organization after he and his friend Rudy Reyes went scuba diving in 2015.

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Reyes, who had been suffering from depression after serving as a Recon Marine, was delighted to experience the magic of scuba diving – and his excitement helped Ritterhoff to realize just how they could use the experience to help other US veterans.

“We were like, ‘wait a second, we can do some real good for out veteran community and at the same time, we can use our veteran community to help the environment and reach an audience that currently isn’t getting the message,” Ritterhoff told the news outlet.

“[That audience] may not listen to scientists, but they’ll listen to navy seals and they’ll listen to marines because these guys are their heroes.”

Photo by Jim Hellemn / Force Blue

Since launching the organization, the Force Blue team has recruited dozens of enthusiastic veteran workers for the mission.

Over the course of the last seven months alone, the team has been treating coral reefs of a particularly dangerous outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease.

The team successfully concluded their work earlier this month after logging over 1,250 dive hours along an 80-mile stretch of coastline. Collectively, the team applied antibiotics to more than 1,200 corals – and they were pleased to report that they often experienced more than 75% success in stopping or slowing the disease.

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“We are grateful to FORCE BLUE for joining our team of partners in the fight against this disease” said Joanna Walczak, Southeast Regional Administrator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection.

“From day one they have brought everything they have to the table,” she added. “And FORCE BLUE’s … perspective has inspired our response effort and invigorated the mission to preserve Florida’s coral reefs.”

(WATCH the 2018 news coverage below)

Veterans on a new mission to save damaged coral reef 9.26.01 AM from FORCE BLUE on Vimeo.

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