The Florida Keys & Key West

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Connect & Protect: Be a Citizen Scientist in the Florida Keys

FLORIDA KEYS — Increased efforts in volunteerism, often called “voluntourism,” contribute to the self-sufficiency and sustainability of tourist destinations like the Florida Keys, helping make the world a better place through environmental education. Advocacy groups and learning-based attractions in the Keys offer hands-on experiences that enable visitors to learn about impacts on Florida's reefs and the environment, and how the average person can help as a citizen scientist.

The second Friday of each month is Coral Restoration Day with the folks at Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo providing divers a unique opportunity to use their dive training to help create a healthier marine environment.

In tandem with the Coral Restoration Foundation’s dive programs, the program’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. Participants then go on working dives to a coral nursery, where they see how nursery “trees” are cleaned and the corals prepared for outplanting, and a dive at a reef restoration site.

Scientifically observed and documented each year, the annual coral spawn typically occurs a few days after the late summer full moon phases. Corals throw caution to the wind, typically for one to three nights of unabashed “sex” along Keys reefs — 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. To find a dive shop offering these unique eco-excursions, visit fla-keys.com.diving.

For people interested in scuba diving who aren’t 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.

The immersive encounter is led by a certified dive instructor, who provides education about the unique local ecosystem and helps participants view marine life up close. Participants can hand-feed hundreds of tropical fish that swim around them in the massive saltwater aquarium, as well as friendly cownose rays playfully named Chip and Dale. The adjacent predator reef tank gives dive enthusiasts a safe view of some amazing predators that are not usually spotted in the wild.

Afterward, participants can present their Aquarium Encounters certification card at any NAUI Dream destination around the world to apply toward a resort-style guided dive.

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. Residents and visitors employ the strategy with a twist: “If you don’t pick it up, they will,” meaning birds, fish, sea turtles and other marine life that can mistake debris and plastic bags in the ocean for food.

For information about other eco-friendly opportunities and activities in the Florida Keys, visit fla-keys.com/sustain/.

A diver helps survey the reef to collect data.

A diver helps survey the reef to collect data.

In August 2019, staff of the Coral Restoration Foundation observed a genotype of staghorn coral spawning in a coral tree nursery. Image: Paige Carper/CRF

In August 2019, staff of the Coral Restoration Foundation observed a genotype of staghorn coral spawning in a coral tree nursery. Image: Paige Carper/CRF

One small change like 'Don't Pass It Up, Pick It Up' can make a big difference and make the earth a better place.

One small change like 'Don't Pass It Up, Pick It Up' can make a big difference and make the earth a better place.

The Keys to Sustainable Travel

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