Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Welcomes 10th Dive Operator into Conservation and Education Program

June 27, 2011

Media Contact:

Karrie Carnes
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Blue Star Program

NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes Captain Hooks Marina and Dive Center, of Marathon, Fla., as the newest participant in the sanctuary’s Blue Star education and conservation program. Captain Hooks is the 10th dive operator in the Florida Keys to earn this recognition, and the first in the Middle Keys.

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.

Captain Hooks Marina and Dive  Center receive Blue Star recognition

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary staff member Todd Hitchins with representatives from Captain Hooks Marina and Dive Center of Marathon, Fla.

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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.

“We applaud Captain Hooks for its 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 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.

Studies have shown that coral reef conservation briefings, like those offered by Blue Star operators, can significantly reduce diver impacts to the coral reef.

Blue Star is funded in part by a grant from Mote Marine Laboratory's “Protect Our Reef” Grants Program. Visit www.sacnctuarybluestar.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 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 to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.