Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes 11th dive operator into coral conservation and education program

November 4, 2011

Media Contact:

Karrie Carnes
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Blue Star Program

Sanctuary Photo Library

NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes Florida Keys Dive Center of Tavernier, Fla., as the newest participant in the sanctuary’s Blue Star education and conservation program. Florida Keys Dive Center is the 11th 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.

Florida Keys Dive Center receive Blue Star recognition.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary staff member Todd Hitchins with representatives from Florida Keys Dive Center of Tavernier, 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 congratulate Florida Keys Dive Center for earning the Blue Star recognition,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. “Blue Star operators are committed to raising awareness of coral reef conservation issues among their patrons and enhancing environmental stewardship in the Florida Keys.”

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 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 NOAA on Facebook , Twitter and our other social media channels.