Captain Matthew “Matt” Bellinger grew up in Sandy Springs, Georgia, studied marine science at the University of Tampa and traveled as a divemaster after college. Today, his company, Bamboo Charters, specializes in family fishing trips — while educating, informing and inspiring clients to learn and care about the Florida Keys’ unique marine environment.
Summerland Key resident Dave Vaughan, founder of the Plant a Million Corals Foundation, is known worldwide for his “Eureka mistake” that led to a revolutionary coral fragmentation technique allowing the rapid growth of coral. His technique is proving to be a vital tool in restoring and protecting the Florida Keys’ living coral barrier reef.
Fifteen young rescued sea turtles were recently released in Gulf Stream waters off Key West by a dedicated duo from the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital — and they were assisted in this worthy endeavor by members of a powerboat racing team who were on the island to compete in the sport’s world championship.
Caitlin “Caiti” Currie, who captains Key Largo water excursions for Pirates Cove Watersports and school groups out of MarineLab at Key Largo Undersea Park, is passionate about keeping the Florida Keys’ aquamarine waters clean. Through Pirates Cove, located at Reefhouse Resort & Marina, she enjoys captaining and participating in Dive Against Debris trips.
Florida Keys residents, and others who love the island chain, are guided by a code of conduct designed to protect the region’s amazing natural environment. Its core is the 10 Keymandments — a lighthearted yet informative set of recommendations for enjoying meaningful, memorable experiences while respecting and helping to preserve the Keys’ treasured eco-realm.
George Bellenger, who co-founded Key West Eco Tours with wife Carla 20 years ago, believes that even a five-minute commitment helps with preserving the Keys’ natural backcountry and dense mangrove islands. The Bellengers’ backcountry eco-tours are operated from the Geiger Key Paddle Hut out of Geiger Key Marina fish camp and RV park.
Marine artist Lisa Lee Herman, owner of Gallery of the Arts Islamorada, is known throughout the Upper Keys for her gyotaku — the ancient Japanese art form for traditionally recording a catch. In fact, Herman greets her gyotaku-seeking clients, and the prized fish they want to preserve, at the dock following their angling excursions.
Erin Muir, a sixth-generation Upper Keys native, is descended from two founding Florida Keys families — the Albury and Lowe families that settled in the Keys in the 1860s — whose roots run as deep as those of the island chain’s shoreline mangroves. Now, Erin is Mote Marine Laboratory’s newly named Upper Keys engagement manager.
Divers and snorkelers explored part of the continental United States' only living coral barrier reef recently while rocking to a unique sub-sea concert that promoted reef protection. The Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival takes place annually at Looe Key Reef — one of the most spectacular areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Autumn Blum, founder of Stream2Sea skin and body care products, is a part-time Key Largo resident, avid diver and cosmetic chemist who developed sunscreen products proven safe for saltwater and freshwater fish and coral larvae. With Reef Renewal USA, she’s leading a “Crazy for Coral” mission to plant 10,000 corals by July 31.