Choosing to volunteer on your vacation (often called “voluntourism”) in the Florida Keys can contribute to the island chain’s self-sufficiency and sustainability, helping make this small section of the planet a better place.
An employee from the Coral Restoration Foundation works underwater in the organization’s coral nursery. (Photo by Tim Grollimund, Florida Keys News Bureau)
You’ll find advocacy groups and learning-based attractions in the Keys that offer hands-on experiences, enabling visitors to learn about impacts on Florida’s reefs and the environment — and how the average person can help as a citizen scientist.
For example, the second Friday of each month is Coral Restoration Day with the folks at Key Largo’s Rainbow Reef Dive Center. If you’re a diver, they’ll provide a unique opportunity for you to use your training to help create a healthier marine environment.
In collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation’s dive programs, this initiative’s educational element focuses on coral health, corals’ function in marine ecosystems, identification of natural and manmade threats to coral, and the means to protect the resource in the Florida Keys.
You’ll go on a working dive to a coral nursery — where you can see how nursery “trees” are cleaned and the corals prepared for outplanting — and a dive at a reef restoration site.
On another note, divers can also (if they’re lucky) view a fantastic underwater phenomenon. The annual coral spawn, scientifically observed and documented each year, generally occurs a few days after the late summer full moon phases.
That’s when corals throw caution to the wind, typically for one to three nights of unabashed “sex” along the Keys reef — the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef.
The coral “love affair” results in the release of millions of eggs and sperm (called gametes), uniting to form larva or planula, a milky substance that represents the future of coral life.
Keys professional dive charter operators offer twilight trips to shallow reefs on or around the full moons in August and September so divers and snorkelers can observe the action. While August’s full moon has passed, there’s still time to book a September trip. To find a dive shop offering these unique eco-excursions, visit fla-keys.com.diving.
Are you interested in scuba diving, but aren’t yet open-water certified? Marathon-based Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters offers a personalized Aquarium Encounters Coral Reef Dive certification.
It’s a great way to spend some time at the aquarium and learn a little about marine ecology and the residents of the coral reef and predator reef tanks.
Feeding the fish isn’t allowed in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary waters — but it’s encouraged in Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters’ massive saltwater tank. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)
You’ll experience the immersive encounter under the watchful eye of a certified dive instructor — who provides education about the unique local ecosystem and helps participants view marine life up close.
You can hand-feed hundreds of tropical fish as they swim around you in the massive saltwater aquarium, as well as friendly cownose rays playfully named Chip and Dale. And the adjacent predator reef tank offers a safe view of some amazing predators that aren’t usually spotted in the wild.
BTW, afterward you can present your Aquarium Encounters certification card at any NAUI Dream destination around the world to apply toward a resort-style guided dive.
And while you’re exploring positive adventures, don’t forget that one small change can make a big difference and make the earth a better place. The decades-old campaign, “Don’t Pass It Up, Pick It Up,” still applies to the world’s environment.
Picking up trash is a simple solution practiced in the Florida Keys island chain surrounded by water — its most precious natural resource. And in the Keys and other island communities, there’s a particularly powerful reason to pick up any trash you might spot. Birds, fish, sea turtles and other marine life can mistake debris and plastic bags in the ocean for food.
Eager to discover more eco-friendly opportunities and activities in the Florida Keys? Just visit fla-keys.com/sustain/.