FLORIDA KEYS — Regardless of experience, divers in the Florida Keys must exercise caution and awareness of their surroundings. Reef etiquette extends to snorkelers and even participants in SNUBA, a cross between snorkeling and scuba.
Every day, Keys dive operators help enforce — through continued education and shared information — guidelines from boat etiquette to the “no touch” rules that are strictly enforced for all divers and snorkelers visiting the coral reefs within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Many dive shops have a low divers-to-guide ratio when they are in the water with their divers, ensuring they employ proper reef etiquette — a procedure that is especially important among beginner divers such as open-water students or newly certified divers just learning to control their buoyancy underwater.
While exploring the undersea world of the Florida Keys, it’s essential to practice some important reef etiquette.
Before hitting the water, apply environmentally safe sunscreens both for skin protection and to eliminate harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone from entering the water column and poisoning coral reefs.
Avoid wearing gloves, except when diving on wrecks.
Perform weight checks at the surface.
Trim weights correctly during the dive — taking weight off during the dive or redistributing weights on the belt.
Dive shops demonstrate to new divers the proper neutrally buoyant position, how far to keep off the reef and correct swimming kick style.
Understand that touching the coral reef is damaging.
Private boaters need also to be aware of dive flag etiquette and properly evaluate diving conditions. This includes slowing down in an area where another vessel is displaying a dive flag, paying close attention to currents, staying close to the boat and having someone who knows how to operate the vessel remain on the boat at all times.
Paramount among private vessels is not to anchor on the reef. Be aware of reef mooring buoys to use instead of anchoring; many dive and snorkel sites are located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and anchoring in these Sanctuary Preservation Areas is prohibited.
When divers are educated about reef responsibility, everyone involved can benefit — and the coral reef can remain the Florida Keys’ greatest environmental treasure for generations.
Divers practice the proper neutrally buoyant position, to keep off the reef and utilize the correct swimming kick style. Image: REEF
Regardless of experience, divers in the Florida Keys must exercise caution and awareness of their surroundings. Image: Pam Murph Photography