Florida Keys — Conservation-minded divers interested in aiding in reef restoration in the Florida Keys can join marine scientists during hands-on coral restoration dive trips. These ecotourism experiences enable Keys visitors to connect with the area’s underwater ecosystem and actively play a role in protecting coral reefs for future generations.
The Key Largo–based Coral Restoration Foundation works with several dive shops in the Upper and Middle Keys to offer full-day programs that include a morning educational session followed by a working dive trip to coral nursery sites to clean, prune and prepare coral trees for planting. Visit coralrestoration.org/dive-programs.
I.Care, headquartered in Islamorada, offers full-day education and coral transplanting dive programs on Islamorada-area reefs with multiple dive operators. Visit i.careaboutcoral.org/schedule.
In the Lower Keys, Captain Hook’s on Big Pine Key teams with Reef Renewal USA on immersive citizen science initiatives. Divers take a training program, then work on outplanting of nursery-raised coral on the Keys reefs during dive trips. There are also opportunities to work on coral fragmentation, a technique that helps to speed coral growth in land-based nurseries. Visit captainhooks.com/coral-program.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium features multiple locations on land in the Keys where visitors can learn about the island chain’s coral reef ecosystem. Locations include the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s Eco-Discovery Center in Key West; landside coral nurseries in Islamorada and Key Largo that are open for tours and hands-on coral fragmenting experiences; the Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration on Summerland Key, where public tours are offered; and the Mote Coral Reef Exploration exhibit at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada. Visit mote.org/locations.
After exploring landside exhibits and nurseries and hands-on work to help grow and support the fragile coral reef system, visitors can reward themselves by experiencing some of the most fascinating dives in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary along the Florida Keys Wreck Trek.
Many area dive operators offer the souvenir Florida Keys Wreck Trek dive logbook to record memories of dives at nine fascinating shipwrecks that are filled with abundant sea life. Wrecks on the trek include Spiegel Grove and Duane in the waters off Key Largo; Benwood and Eagle off Islamorada; Thunderbolt off Marathon; Adolphus Bush off the Lower Keys and Joe’s Tug and Vandenberg off Key West.
To learn more about reef restoration and other volunteer activities, visit fla-keys/voluntourism.
Divers on a Coral Restoration Foundation outplanting and monitoring dive to a coral tree nursery site. Photo: Tim Grollimund