Snorkel in the Florida Keys – how to make this favourite holiday activity a force for good
Picture the scene, you’re sailing in crystal clear blue waters, the sun is shining and you’re about to spend a day snorkelling among the coral. Except this is no ordinary coral. This is coral at the cutting edge of environmental protection, and you’re not just diving among it, you’re rebuilding it for the future and changing the way tourism impacts the natural world, for the better!
Imagine if you could snorkel in the Florida Keys, enjoy fantastic beaches, sunset cruises, amazing food, AND do something to protect the natural environment?
Here's the low-down: the third largest barrier reef on the planet runs down the Florida Keys and as the name suggests, it acts as a barrier, protecting the Keys from the Atlantic Ocean, and providing a habitat for all kinds of marine wildlife.
Sadly, as with all tourist destinations, human enjoyment has its consequences. Boat anchors, ships that run aground, pollution, over-fishing, agricultural and stormwater run-off all have a devastating impact on the reef on a local level, as well as global temperature increasing, causing world-wide coral bleaching events.
Since the 1970s, in line with an increase in human activity, the reef has suffered catastrophic widespread loss of both of its dominant species; staghorn and elkhorn. Only 2% of these corals remain. Both staghorn and elkhorn are listed as critically endangered, which is only one step from ‘Extinct in the wild’. For these to become extinct would be heart-breaking.
Grounds for optimism with the Coral Restoration Foundation
But it's not all bad news.
When I talked with the team at the Coral Restoration Foundation they told me that they have grounds for optimism, as their hard work and relentless efforts are paying off and may just be able to ‘turn the tide’ (sorry!) on this devastating loss.
The huge scale project the Coral Restoration Foundation run is based in Key Largo and has teams of scientists, citizen scientists and volunteers growing and planting out finger-sized endangered species of coral, with ground-breaking results. The small ‘baby’ coral pieces are thriving in their new ocean homes and for the first time in documented history, out-planted nursery grown coral has been seen to spawn in the wild. This is HUGE!
In fact, in March this year at the 'Raise the Reef' fundraiser, the Coral Restoration Foundation celebrated surpassing 35,000 square meters of reef restored in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The Coral Restoration Foundation team in Florida share their results with scientists and coral protection teams all over the world, in a ripple effect that will hopefully kick-start growth and lead to a turnaround in the decline of coral reefs all over the planet. The Key Largo headquarters was host to last years ‘Reef Futures’ event, a symposium that brought together 600 reef restoration specialists from 50 countries. Reef Futures is a conference of hope, action, opportunity, and diversity, focussing on bringing about the interventions and actions necessary to allow coral reefs to thrive into the next century.
This is truly a world-wide endeavour for world-wide benefit.
How can you get involved? Snorkel in the Florida Keys!
The Coral Restoration team work with local dive partners to allow volunteers and holidaymakers the chance to visit the coral nursery, and scuba divers can even get involved with ‘planting out’ the baby corals on to the reefs in the ocean.
The dive schedule is available on the website, just book a slot that fits in with your holiday. There are sessions to suit all abilities, for both snorkelling and scuba. Before you know it, you’ll be mixing two-part marine epoxy resin like a pro and glueing the carefully nurtured coral on to its new homes on the reef!
If you want to get involved from the UK the Coral Restoration team also offer educational visits, on-site or online in the form of videos on their website. There are downloadable activity packs for children, educational power point presentations and you can keep in touch with what is going on by signing up to receive the ‘Coral Chronicles’ newsletter.
The Coral Restoration Foundation Exploration Center is at 5 Seagate Blvd, Key Largo.
You can discover more and book on a dive session using the link at the bottom of this article.
Underwater photos reproduced with kind permission of the Coral Restoration Foundation.
Other ways to be eco-conscious when you snorkel in the Florida Keys
Book with an eco-friendly charter company for your snorkelling trip
In Islamorada, this means booking with Keyz Charters, a Blue Star operator that is recognised for promoting responsible and sustainable practices to reduce the impact of activities on the fragile ecosystems.
In Key West, Honest Eco is a responsible and sustainable family-run charter offering snorkelling and dolphin watching tours in its custom-made, lithium-ion, plug-in hybrid boat called SQUID, designed to minimise noise pollution in the ocean. Look out for other Blue Star operators too.
There are so many other ways to benefit nature and have fun in the Florida Keys.
Marathon Turtle Hospital is a must-visit destination. Turtles, like coral, fall victim to human carelessness, often ingesting rubbish discarded in the ocean, getting entangled in floating debris or being struck by leisure vehicles in the water.
The hospital is open to visitors, where you can take the tour and understand the issues facing turtles in the wild. Did you know that in some places, light pollution distracts baby turtles from using moonlight to navigate to the ocean? The tour involves a peek in the operating theatre, visiting the recovering patients in their recovery tanks and meeting the long-term permanent residents who can’t be returned to the wild for various reasons.
Use the link below to find out more and to book your slot on the tour, it’s so much fun to feed the turtles and watch their antics as they play in the huge recovery pool.
Here are some other simple steps that you can take to protect the natural world wherever you take your holiday:
- Use ocean/reef-friendly sun cream.
- Book your water-based trips and snorkelling with a reputable charter company – in Florida these can be identified by the Blue Star recognition, see the link below for the full list of Blue Star operators.
- Use a refillable water bottle rather than a single use plastic one.
- Take your litter home with you, don’t let it wind up in the ocean or elsewhere in nature.
- Raise awareness, share this blog, follow these enterprises on social media, share the details of other businesses you find who are doing their bit to protect the natural world. I completely believe that most people would like to do the right thing given the choice, so let’s show them what the right choices actually are!
Thanks for reading,