One way to get involved and make a difference in the protection of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary resources is through the sanctuary’s “Ocean Conservation Education Action Network,” or Team OCEAN program.
Team OCEAN volunteers and staff work to promote safe and enjoyable public use of the marine environment and to advocate protection of its natural resources.
Team OCEAN Volunteers
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Team OCEAN volunteers are stationed on sanctuary vessels at heavily visited reef sites throughout the Keys during peak recreational boating seasons and heavy-traffic holiday weekends. Volunteers inform the public about the sanctuary and its special zones, encourage proper use of sanctuary resources, and provide tips on how to practice basic safety.
Boat groundings frequently occur because boaters are unfamiliar with the water and with the need to navigate around reefs instead of motoring directly across the reef. Team OCEAN volunteers directly prevent groundings by being present, watching for errant boaters, waving them off when they attempt to cross the shallow reef crest, and providing Teall’s Guides and charts to help familiarize new or visiting boaters with the sanctuary. Informational packets are offered to vessels, and include the charts, sanctuary information, and other helpful tips for navigating Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The sanctuary is often looking for additional volunteers to join the program. Individuals may be trained as operators of sanctuary boats and as interpreters/educators.
Team OCEAN volunteers also participate in beach clean-ups. In 2010, Team OCEAN staff and volunteers collected more than 10,000 pounds of marine debris.
As a Team OCEAN volunteer, you will provide on-the-water education and information aimed at protecting sanctuary resources while enriching the experiences of visitors to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and make a difference in the health of the ecosystem.
Team OCEAN Business Community Program
Florida Keys businesses such as dive and snorkel shops, hotels, and marinas all have the potential to educate customers and make a positive impact on the protection of resources in the sanctuary. And, as companies that rely on those resources to bring in customers, local businesses have a vested interested in the health of the ecosystem.
Team OCEAN staff regularly visit waterfront and visitor-related businesses in the Keys to distribute sanctuary educational materials and serve as liaisons between the businesses and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These visits allow business owners to ask questions, air their views, and discuss any needs or issues.
Also, to help increase the number of boaters who have access to sanctuary information, Team OCEAN staff distribute information packets containing Teall’s Guides, sanctuary information, and other helpful tips for navigating the sanctuary to rental-boat facilities throughout the Keys.
Team OCEAN Boater Education Program
Team OCEAN staff and volunteers also provide educational activities for boaters before they get in the water through a boater education program.
The number of registered boats in the Florida Keys – and the number of visitors participating in boating activities – has been on the rise. With a greater number of boaters on the water, the number of boating incidents and groundings in the area is also increasing, making education on the need to boat safely even more important.
As part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary boater education program, sanctuary staff are available at events and festivals or upon request to talk to individuals and groups interested in learning more about the ecological importance of seagrass beds and coral reefs, the damage that occurs when a vessel runs aground, safe navigation of these areas, and proper procedures to minimize resource damage when removing a grounded vessel.
The sanctuary also distributes a weather- and salt-resistant four-by-six inch sticker to rental boat companies and the general public for placement on boats traveling the Florida Keys. Illustrations and explanations of navigational aids are displayed on the sticker, as well as instructions on how to minimize damage to resources when removing a grounded vessel.
Target audiences for the program are visitors to sanctuary booths at festivals and special events, interpretive program participants, and rental-boat customers. The goals of the program are to instill stewardship towards natural resources, teach navigation to prevent resource damage, and minimize damage that occurs when removing grounded vessels.