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Florida Keys 'Blue Star' Charter Operators Promote Responsible Diving and Snorkeling

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

FLORIDA KEYS — Catering to divers and snorkelers enjoying the coral reefs within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is an elite group of dive and snorkel charter operators with a purpose. Blue Star-certified charter operators voluntarily train with the governmental agency to help educate and reduce the impact of divers and snorkelers on the Florida Keys coral reef system — the only contiguous living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

Not all professional operators in the Keys are certified through the sanctuary's recognition program, but responsible diving is common practice to encourage visitors to help lessen stress on coral reefs while enjoying their beauty.

Since Blue Star's inception in 2010, nearly 20 operators have become members. They are dedicated to adhering to the program's coral reef education and conservation standards and including Blue Star program messaging through onboard dive briefings and student certification programs.

To participate in the program, dive operators must meet certain criteria and are evaluated yearly. Trained staff members are committed to promoting responsible tourism, aimed at teaching in-water etiquette such as the rules of sanctuary-protected areas, reef fish identification, practicing good buoyancy, taking care in placement of hands and fins, and avoiding touching or standing on coral.

Blue Star operators also incorporate a conservation-related specialty course such as underwater naturalist, reef fish identification or buoyancy control as part of their offerings to divers and snorkelers.

Divers and snorkelers can become Blue Star Partners by attending a reef etiquette briefing or watching a reef etiquette educational video and learning more about diver responsibilities.

Blue Star-rated operators can be identified by the flag or decal bearing the Blue Star logo displayed on their charter vessel.

In November 2015, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary marks 25 years of dedication to protecting the world's third-largest barrier reef and the waters surrounding the island chain. Administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and jointly managed with the state of Florida, the sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of waters. Its boundaries stretch from Biscayne National Park near Miami to the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles west of Key West.

Blue Star program information: floridakeys.noaa.gov/onthewater/bluestar.html
Florida Keys diving information: fla-keys.com/diving
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS

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Divers and snorkelers can become Blue Star Partners by attending a reef etiquette briefing or watching a reef etiquette educational video and learning more about diver responsibilities.

Divers and snorkelers can become Blue Star Partners by attending a reef etiquette briefing or watching a reef etiquette educational video and learning more about diver responsibilities.

Responsible diving is common practice to encourage visitors to help lessen stress on coral reefs while enjoying their beauty.

Responsible diving is common practice to encourage visitors to help lessen stress on coral reefs while enjoying their beauty.

The Keys to Sustainable Travel
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