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.
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.
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.
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.
Florida Keys visitors can join residents in becoming stewards of the island chain’s world-renowned coral reef ecosystem. Environmental enthusiasts can aid in reef restoration in the Keys, giving back to the living, dynamic underwater ecosystem. They can also benefit the underwater world by following responsible reef protection tips during their Keys vacations.
Captain Dave Dipre, Marathon-based operational captain with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Law Enforcement, oversees operations from Key Largo to Key West. His love of the Keys, and his sense of environmental responsibility, run as deep as the 125-mile-long island chain’s waters that he’s charged with protecting.
Mark Hedden, executive director of the Florida Keys Audubon Society and artist-in-residence at The Studios of Key West, is perhaps the Keys’ best known “bird man.” A self-taught photographer acclaimed for his recent “South of Southernmost” exhibit, he hopes to use his creative artistry to inspire others to discover the Keys’ natural world.