Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Welcomes Two Dive Operators into Conservation and Education Program

Feb. 17, 2011

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Karrie Carnes
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Blue Star Program

NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary recently welcomed Horizon Divers and Silent World Dive Center, both of Key Largo, Fla., as the newest participants in the sanctuary’s Blue Star education and conservation program.

Launched in 2009, Blue Star salutes companies working to protect the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem by promoting responsible diving and snorkeling practices and educating the public about the impact human interactions can have on the marine environment. Unlike some of the causes of reef decline, such as climate change, damage to reefs from diving and snorkeling is considered easily preventable. A recent study by Emma Camp, a British researcher at Sheffield Hallam University, found that conservation education, such as that offered by Blue Star operators, can significantly reduce diver impacts to the coral reef.

Home to the third-largest barrier coral reef in the world, the protected waters of the Florida Keys 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.

Horizon Divers receive Blue Star recognition

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary staff member Todd Hitchins with representatives from Horizon Divers of Key Largo, Fla.

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“Through voluntary education programs like Blue Star, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Keys’ charter businesses are working together to protect these fragile coral reefs for future generations,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent.

Blue Star operators are required to attend training annually on issues affecting coral reefs, sanctuary regulations and coral reef etiquette – and, in turn, 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. Blue Star now recognizes eight dive businesses in the Florida Keys, with several more scheduled to be recognized in 2011.

Blue Star is funded in part by a grant from Mote Marine Laboratory's “Protect Our Reef” Grants Program. Visit sanctuaries.noaa.gov/bluestar/welcome.html for more information on the program and for updates on recognized operators.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadow, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the State of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us at floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysnoaagov.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usnoaagov.