Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes 12th dive operator into coral conservation and education program
August 22, 2012
NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes Conch Republic Divers of Tavernier, Fla. as the newest participant in the sanctuary’s Blue Star education and conservation program. Conch Republic Divers is the 12th dive operator in the Florida Keys to earn this recognition.
Launched in 2009, Blue Star salutes charter companies that help protect the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem by promoting responsible diving and snorkeling practices, and educating their patrons on the role humans play in reef health. Unlike some of the more global causes of reef decline — such as climate change — damage to reefs from diving and snorkeling is considered easily preventable through education and experience.
Home to the third-largest barrier coral reef in the world, the sanctuary’s protected waters attract millions of visitors each year and contribute an estimated $2 billion in annual tourist revenue. The reef's close proximity to land and an abundance of boat operators in the Keys make it easily accessible to both novice snorkelers and seasoned divers.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary staff member LTjg Carmen Alex presents Conch Republic Divers owner Gary Mace with his charter's Blue Star decal and recognition.
“We are pleased to welcome Conch Republic Divers into the Blue Star program and commend their commitment to coral reef education,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. “Through Blue Star, visitors and residents will gain a greater understanding of the importance and fragility of Florida Keys coral reefs, and the role they play in its conservation.”
Blue Star operators are required to attend training annually on issues affecting coral reefs, sanctuary regulations and coral reef etiquette. In turn, Blue Star operators educate their customers by incorporating the information into certification classes and dive briefings. They also must offer conservation related dive courses and participate in activities such as fish counts and reef clean-ups. Operators are re-evaluated every year.
Blue Star is funded in part by a grant from Mote Marine Laboratory's “Protect Our Reef” Grants Program. Visit www.sanctuarybluestar.org for more information on the program and a list of recognized operators.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online at floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysnoaagov.
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