The Florida Keys are full of life and everyone is working hard to get ready for another big year. We will always remember the devastation that 2017 left us with, and I believe it is safe to say, we are all looking forward to a fresh start. As we continue to clean up our neighborhoods, let’s not forget about what’s happening below the surface.
Recreational diving in the Florida Keys is some of the best in the world and many of us are fortunate enough to dive here almost every day. There are many places we like to visit every couple of weeks, dive sites that are special for one reason or another. Myself and the visitors we take out come to know these places and the animals that live there. However, many of these sites changed when Hurricane Irma passed through the Florida Keys. The sand on Molasses Reef in Key Largo was pushed away, exposing hard reef substrate that divers can now see. Portions of the Eagle shipwreck in Islamorada have collapsed, creating new structure for divers to explore. Sections of deep ledges off Lower Matecumbe Key have broken off and now lay in the sand. This created new areas for fish to school and exposed holes on the reef ledge that are now home to grouper. Many of the reefs we knew so well are now completely changed and make for exciting new dives. Some change is good, but some will require our help.
Hurricane Irma left us with a mess to clean up, not only on land but also in the water. Visitors coming to dive the Florida Keys in 2018 can get involved by joining a Project Aware, Dive Against Debris, program though participating dive shops. This program is vital to the Florida Keys as it raises awareness about marine debris and allows individuals to clean up sponsored sections of reef. If you own a dive center and want to support this program, the application process is easy and can be found on Project Aware’s website.
Another way to get involved is by working with a local non-profit and supporting their restoration efforts. The Coral Restoration Foundation “CRF” is a non-profit organization that is always looking for volunteers and supporting dive centers to help with their efforts. CRF has multiple off shore coral nurseries, where thousands of reef building corals are grown from small individual fragments. Once these fragments grow to an appropriate size, staff and volunteers take them to a damaged reef location to be outplanted. This is a great way to make a direct impact on our reefs throughout the Florida Keys. Many visitors enjoy this program because they can see their planted coral grow year after year.
If your time is limited and you can’t get involved with one of these programs, there are still ways you can help while on your dive charter. Reef Environmental Education Foundation “REEF” is the leader for lionfish removal and education. As many of you know, lionfish are invasive and have shown a negative impact on the Florida Keys reef system. Lionfish are not generally caught on hook and line, which leaves it up to divers to control their population. Most dive centers offer lionfish eradication dives on their daily charters.
As you plan your next dive trip in the Florida Keys, whether you are a full-time resident or visiting for the weekend, use this guide to make a positive impact on the reef you enjoy. It could be as simple as removing a lionfish or collecting left behind marine debris. Either way, your impact will make a lasting positive impact on the coral reef community.
Capt. Tony Young is the owner and operator of Forever Young Charter Company in Tavernier, FL. Tony dedicates each dive charter to coral reef conservation and promotes sustainable spearfishing practices in the upper keys. Reach him at (305)680-8879 or diveyoung.com to learn more.
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