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Be an Ocean Advocate: Florida Keys Reef Etiquette for Divers

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This Green Scene story spotlights an environmentally focused attraction, event, person or place that enriches the Florida Keys

In keeping with the global “Restore Our Earth” theme for Earth Day 2021 in April, it’s easy to participate in a variety of meaningful, memorable activities in the Florida Keys such as diving, snorkeling and even Snuba, a hybrid of the two. 

Every day in the Keys, professional dive operators impart their knowledge and experience to people enjoying the waters within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, urging them to exercise caution and be aware of their surroundings. 

Late spring and summer are among the best times to explore the Florida Keys’ reefs and shipwrecks, although it’s important to practice coral reef etiquette principles anytime.

Apply sunscreen that is labeled as environmentally safe before leaving for a dive or snorkel excursion. Early application provides ideal absorption time for skin protection. Use products free of ingredients such as oxybenzone to prevent harmful chemicals from washing off in the water column and adhering to corals, effectively poisoning them. 

Wear SPF clothing such as a long-sleeved rash guard, allowing you to apply less sunscreen lotion with even better sun protection. 

Avoid wearing gloves, except as recommended protection if touching an encrusted superstructure or mooring line while diving a shipwreck. 

Divers: perform weight checks on the surface. Trim weights correctly during the dive — take weight off during the dive or redistribute the weight on either a belt or within integrated pockets in a buoyancy compensatory vest.

Control your buoyancy. Maintaining neutral buoyancy is especially important for beginner divers such as open-water students or newly certified divers just learning to hover above a reef or the ocean bottom.  

Use a correct swimming kick style while diving or snorkeling. Keeping legs straight and kicking from the hips is more efficient than moving them in a circular motion that looks similar to “riding a bicycle.” 

Adopt a strict “no touch” policy among marine life underwater. Touching the coral reef can be damaging. Avoid kicking the reef or standing on corals, even if they appear to be rocky. 

Private boaters: practice dive flag etiquette. Properly evaluate diving conditions, slow down in an area where another vessel is displaying a dive flag, pay close attention to the direction of currents (and shifting currents), stay close to the boat and have someone who knows how to operate the vessel remain on the boat at all times. 

Use mooring buoys. Not anchoring on the reef is paramount. Many dive and snorkel sites located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are considered Sanctuary Preservation Areas. Anchoring in those areas is prohibited.

When divers are educated in reef responsibility, everyone involved can benefit — and the coral reef can remain the Florida Keys’ greatest environmental treasure for generations to come.

Regardless of experience, divers and snorkelers in the Florida Keys must exercise caution and awareness of their surroundings.

Regardless of experience, divers and snorkelers in the Florida Keys must exercise caution and awareness of their surroundings.

Before departing on a reef trip, apply sunscreen that is environmentally safe, without harmful chemicals like oxybenzone.

Before departing on a reef trip, apply sunscreen that is environmentally safe, without harmful chemicals like oxybenzone.

Practice the proper neutrally buoyant position to keep off the reef. Image: Pam Murph Photography

Practice the proper neutrally buoyant position to keep off the reef. Image: Pam Murph Photography

Paramount among private vessels is not to anchor on the reef and use mooring buoys.

Paramount among private vessels is not to anchor on the reef and use mooring buoys.

This article was updated on April 6, 2021 at 12:56 PM
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