August 20, 2018
Blue Star Dive Operators Remove Over One Ton of Marine Debris from Reefs in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary as Part of Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys
News Source: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
The economy of the Florida Keys depends on tourism, and tourism depends on a healthy barrier reef and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (the sanctuary). Lost or abandoned fishing gear and trash entangles corals, sea fans, sponges, sea turtles, manatees, and other marine life. It degrades seagrass, hard bottom, coral reef, and mangrove habitats, and detracts from the natural beauty of the Keys. To address this problem and restore sensitive coral reefs, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, in partnership with the sanctuary, is providing funding to recognized Blue Star Dive Operators to support marine debris cleanup in the sanctuary as part of the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys initiative.
Local Blue Star Dive Operators Cristal Clear Charters, DiveN2Life, and Key Dives recently completed their inaugural cleanup dives, removing 2,678 pounds of marine debris and over 2,800 feet of line from reefs throughout the sanctuary. Blue Star is a voluntary program that recognizes charter boat operators who promote responsible and sustainable diving and snorkeling practices, helping keep the reef healthy for generations to come. The outcomes of the project are an assessment of the amount and type of debris located within critical areas; removal of damaged or displaced lobster traps and other marine debris; and assistance for the regional economy by working with local businesses and the tourism industry to restore marine habitats and ecosystems.
“Healthy reefs are critical to sustaining biodiversity and a strong recreation and tourism economy in Florida,” Kris Sarri, President and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. “Through Goal:Clean Seas Florida Keys we hope to engage local residents and businesses in efforts to conserve the reef and bring statewide and national attention to the need to protect this natural treasure.”
Of the approximately 350,000 spiny lobster traps deployed in Monroe County when Hurricane Irma struck the Keys in September 2017, an estimated 154,000 traps were severely damaged or displaced due to the storm. The Florida Keys Commercial Fisherman’s Association estimates that traps traveled as far as 15 miles in Hurricane Irma.
The removal of damaged or displaced lobster traps (requiring permits from both the state of Florida and the sanctuary) and other marine debris will restore, protect, and conserve marine habitats and ecosystems in key areas of the sanctuary. These efforts will prevent future damage to many species within the sanctuary. These species include reef building coral species listed under the Endangered Species Act such as Elkhorn (endangered), Staghorn (endangered) and Boulder Star Coral (threatened) and many other plants and animals within this important ecosystem.
The Foundation continues to support removal and disposal of marine debris that present high risk for damaging important marine resources in critical sanctuary management areas. Blue Star certified dive operators are eligible to apply for funding here. The Foundation reviews applications for this funding opportunity on a rolling basis.
Local Divers Making a Difference
Cristal Clear Charters (aka The Dive Shop), an independent service provider to Ocean Reef Club in North Key Largo, will conduct bi-weekly cleanup dives through August 2019. Dives will focus on Carysfort reef and the surrounding reefs and coastal waters, including Card Sound, Barnes Sound, and North Pennekamp state waters. Kris Sarri, the Foundation’s President and CEO, accompanied Cristal Clear Charters on their first dive on August 9 that resulted in the removal of 512 pounds of debris and 142 feet of line.
Ocean Reef Club members interested in future dive dates may contact Cristal Clear Charters here for more information.
DiveN2Life, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to introducing young people to the ocean’s physical and cultural landscapes through science and research diving projects, will offer marine debris cleanup dives directed at youth. The dive organization, based out of Big Torch Key, will allow students age 10 and older who already participate in DiveN2Life’s Lower Keys Scientific Dive Team Program to take part in a series of reef cleanup dives with adult supervision.
Participating students (junior divers) received a pre-dive pool training (below) to familiarize themselves with equipment and techniques to safely remove debris from the reefs before embarking on their first field dives on July 21 and 29. So far, DiveN2Life junior divers have recovered nearly 2,000 pounds of debris and 2,500 feet of line. Dives will continue through the remainder of 2018.
Key Dives, a full-service, first-class dive facility on Islamorada will offer free, bi-weekly cleanup dive trips to Keys residents through August 2019. Each dive can accommodate up to 18 divers resident and non-resident divers and will be focused on Alligator Reef, Donut Reef, Jeri’s Joint, Merkel Reef, and surrounding areas as needed. Non-diving volunteers are also welcome to accompany and participate in cleanup by recording debris before disposal. Key Dives offered its first cleanup dive on July 29, which resulted in divers removing over 65 pounds of rope, anchors, and damaged lobster trap debris, and 75 feet of fishing line. On August 12, Key Dives removed 101 pounds of lobster trap pieces, line, monofilament, and general garbage and 200 feet of line from Lower Matecumbe reefs.
Residents and visitors of the Florida Keys who are interested in future dive dates may contact Key Dives here for more information.
How to Get Involved
The commitment and generous support of partners is critical to the Foundation’s continued success. To support marine debris removal in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and across the National Marine Sanctuary System, click here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.