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Join a Volunteer Effort in the Florida Keys

Voluntourism is all about connecting. It’s about connecting with the earth and the ocean. It’s about connecting with people and all living things. It’s about connecting with the natural beauty of The Florida Keys and its unique eco-systems. It’s about connections between cultures and social classes. It’s about giving something back and making the world a better place.

You can be a visitor to The Florida Keys and dedicate a part of your vacation or you can “be local” and get involved on an ongoing basis.

Causes range from reef restoration and beach clean-ups to helping kids or spending time working in a wildlife refuge. Whether you have special skills or interests, or just want to help out, you can connect with the causes and charities that are dedicated to protecting and improving the quality of both human and animal life in The Florida Keys.

Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center welcomes volunteers to help at the hospital and/or the 5-acre sanctuary with habitat construction, care and feeding of wild bird patients, or rehabilitated residents. Volunteer info

Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Florida Keys

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is recruiting and training volunteers for their Team OCEAN program, to serve as boat operators or educational interpreters at busy reef areas on weekends and peak days during the summer months. Volunteer info

Marathon Wild Bird Center

Marathon Wild Bird Center always welcomes volunteers to assist with the capture and transport of injured wildlife as well as assisting with the release of successfully rehabilitated birds, in addition to fundraising events, picking up supplies, feeding birds, and more. Volunteer info

The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden

The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden has a variety of ways that volunteers can help, including assistance with presenting classes, greeting visitors, gardening, giving tours, and special events. Volunteer info

Key West Wildlife Center

Key West Wildlife Center’s mission is to ensure the future of the Keys’ diverse native wildlife by providing timely rescues and quality rehabilitation with the hope of release back to the wild. Become a Wildlife Sponsor

Pigeon Key

Pigeon Key is dedicated to preserving the cultural history of the Florida Keys by promoting its healthy future through education, history and research. Become a member

Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Florida Keys

Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Florida Keys believes volunteers are a valuable resource! Work alongside staff, partner homeowners and other volunteers, to help transform lives. This transformation and energy sustains our passion. Volunteer info

Get Actively Involved!
Join a Coral Restoration Dive Program

Join a Coral Restoration Dive Workshop

Coral reefs are considered the rainforests of the oceans, supporting marine life, protecting shorelines and providing food and economical benefits to humans. Along with thousands of the world’s ocean advocates, recreational divers interested in volunteering can participate in protecting this resource through coral restoration.

Multiple coral restoration organizations are engaged in an ongoing mission to preserve the coral reefs of the Florida Keys, exploring the challenges coral reefs are facing, what research is being done and how citizens can get actively involved with cleanup dives, coral outplanting trips and reef monitoring trips. They include:

Volunteer scuba divers can join Keys’ professional dive operators and work alongside marine scientists in a hands-on way, helping understand environmental impacts on coral reefs and how to apply learned methods to re-establish sexually mature coral colonies to successfully reproduce and repopulate the reefs as strong, independent structures that serve as habitat for a variety of tropical fish.

Coral Restoration Dive Workshop

Typically, after a morning education session devoted to coral health, corals’ function in marine ecosystems and identification of natural and manmade threats to coral, participants go on an afternoon working dive(s) to a coral nursery, and to plant corals on the new restoration site. Divers receive an orientation of some restoration projects already completed and see firsthand the evolution of corals over time.

Endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals are two reef-building species that have the best chance to propagate and create new habitats at several sites along the Florida Reef Tract, which runs from north of Miami to Key West.

Boulder, star and pillar coral species are also part of restoration efforts.

Visit these organizations’ websites to learn how you can join a coral restoration workshop today.

For many recreational divers, what starts as an interest evolves into a dedicated mission.

Net Cash and Prizes for Bagging Lionfish

Lionfish

Divers planning trips to enjoy the Florida Keys' living coral barrier reef also can help protect it and give back to the environment by capturing and removing non-native lionfish from Keys waters while vacationing.

A partnership forged between the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the dive community has created hands-on, focused opportunities for Keys visitors who enjoy the island chain's natural resources to take action and remove lionfish. The popular aquarium fish is believed to have been introduced to Florida waters during the 1980s.

Lionfish

REEF runs workshops educating divers about safe collection and removal techniques, and sponsors lionfish derbies and monthly contests open to individuals and businesses that award prizes to those that catch the most lionfish. Divers can learn how to collect, clean and fillet this delicious fish whose delicate white meat is likened to snapper, grouper and hogfish. Although lionfish are equipped with venomous spines that are removed before cooking, the flesh has no poison.

There is no season for capturing lionfish. They can be caught anytime, anywhere and at any size, with the exception of no-take zones within Special Protected Areas (SPAs) of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Lionfish hunters in any SPA area do need a permit to collect lionfish, and these can be obtained from REEF during any of their workshops.

For more information and how to get involved, visit reef.org/lionfish/derbies.

Participation Sought for Annual Fish Count Surveys

Reef Environmental Education Foundation

Reef Environmental Education Foundation has a mission to educate and enlist divers in the conservation of marine habitats.

Divers and snorkelers can assist in identifying and documenting fish diversity and population trends.

Researching

Each July is the Great Annual Fish Count, an international eco-event where volunteer divers and snorkelers gather data used by marine researchers, resource managers and policy makers to help assess reefs' condition and their ability to sustain fish and marine life. Interested divers and snorkelers can organize their own fish count dives individually or through a dive club, or join local dive shops for special fish-identification dive and snorkel excursions.

REEF encourages divers to conduct fish count surveys year-round and, with newly learned fish ID skills, collect data that is aggregated with counts from around the world, adding to the more than 160,000 surveys already submitted for research. Survey results can be reported and viewed online.

Underwater notes

Reef fish population data has been used by local and national agencies to develop management plans for coral reef resources in the islands of the Florida Keys, Caribbean, Hawaii and North Pacific.

Introductory fish ID seminars offer divers the opportunity to learn the 50 most common fish in the waters of the Florida Keys. This seminar includes an interactive presentation, free membership to REEF, and an opportunity to participate in a guided field survey dive.

For free scan forms and information about marine survey materials, visit reef.org.

The Keys to Sustainable Travel
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