The life that Mike Goldberg — co-founder of I.CARE and owner of Islamorada’s Key Dives — created in the Florida Keys is a long way from his previous life as a Bear Stearns money manager, raising $100 million a year.
“I was just chasing money. I lived month to month to see if I could make more money,” Goldberg recalled. “I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘This is really not me.’ “
A year ago, Goldberg and marine biologist Kylie Smith, a Florida Wildlife Commission scientist, spearheaded the founding of I.CARE, the Keys’ newest and the only Islamorada-based reef restoration organization, in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.
“No reef restoration was happening in Islamorada and these reefs needed our attention,” Goldberg said.
In support of I.CARE and through help from the Stanczyk family, owners of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina, Mote is to install Islamorada’s first and only land-based coral nursery at the marina. Corals raised there are to be specifically dedicated to restoring reefs off Islamorada.
Restoration permits have been granted for Alligator, Victory and Rocky Top reefs with three other dive shops: Islamorada Dive Center, Conch Republic Divers and Forever Young Charter Co. Hotels Breezy Palms, Sunset Inn and Blue Fin Inn have also pledged donations.
Goldberg, targeting restoration efforts this fall, envisions six to eight monthly trips of participating divers —first, touring the land-based coral lab or nursery, then diving to help replant coral. Each dive master will oversee three divers.
Goldberg hopes to raise $200,000 annually and add more local business partners. Key Dives plans to raise more than $30,000 each year, donating 2% of gross diving receipts and collecting $2 from each diver per trip.
“My goal is to annuitize the revenue stream via community participants and businesses to simplify the entire process,” said Goldberg, recently named a “Sea Hero” by SCUBA Diving magazine.
“I want to be part of the solution and bring with me as many people as I can.With a community-based approach, we all take ownership,” he added.
Keys Traveler: When did you first come to the Keys and why?
Mike Goldberg: My wife, daughter and I moved to Islamorada in 2004 to start Key Dives at Bud N’ Mary’s Marina. We moved from Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands, to bring Key Dives’ style, with full-service concierge valet and guides in the water.
KT: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
MG: I truly enjoy island life, specifically the people. I spent 35 years between Chicago and Los Angeles. In both cases, one never knows their neighbors. I’ve now spent 23 years living on an island and love seeing familiar faces wherever I go. Generosity here always amazes me. Whether rallying around a cause, financially supporting high school graduates or setting up impromptu food distribution centers, Keys folk always seem to step up.
KT: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?
MG: I’ve been diving for over 30 years and have vivid memories of a reef with almost unimaginable beauty. Nothing motivates me more than working toward restoring our reef. I do this so that when young people get to be my age, they can look back and say, ‘I remember a reef 30 years ago that was struggling to survive but now look at it. Wow, is it beautiful!’
KT: How does that passion influence your business?
MG: It drives my business. Whether removing debris from our reefs, giving out free reusable grocery bags or donating 2% of gross receipts to restore our reef, passion for our reef is the center point of Key Dives.Please reach out to us —we absolutely need community support!
KT: What are some ways, personally or through work, that you connect with or help to protect the local environment and unique lifestyle?
MG:The purpose behind I.CARE is to protect and restore our reefs and, just as important, to preserve our lifestyle. Without our reefs, our way of life will cease to exist. We need to change our current trajectory.
KT: What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?
MG:To spur others to have the same passion. We need all who care to get involved now. We do not have time to waste. We need to bring back a reef for the benefit of future generations. We can do it if we work together.
KT: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
MG: To all divers who come here, dedicate one day to giving back. Get involved with restoration of our reefs, join a coral outplant trip, assist in a marine debris cleanup dive or tour a coral nursery. Take this education back to your home and spread the knowledge to anyone who will listen. For those who fish, it is just as important that you give back. Donate money. Tour a land-based coral nursery to see what we are doing to raise corals. A healthy reef means better fishing for future generations.
KT: What’s your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?
MG: Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing baby corals we transplant flourish!
Goldberg has been diving for over 30 years and has vivid memories of a reef with almost unimaginable beauty.