NOAA estimates that US coral reefs, including the ones we dive on regularly in the Florida Keys, contribute about $3.4Bn annually to the US economy. Worldwide some 500 million people depend on reefs for food and income. In addition, barrier reefs like Molasses reef and French reef that we dive on the Sea Dweller III here in Key Largo provide protection to the shore and reduce potential flood and storm damage.
Coral reefs today are suffering as a result of multiple threats. Some global and some local:
In the fairly recent past, Carysfort reef, north of Key Largo was a model of a healthy reef, with huge stands of Elk horn coral. This picture from 2012 shows some decline. It is estimated that some 90% of the coral on the reef has been lost today.
When we talk about coral, most often we are referring to Stony Corals which are the basic building blocks of the reef.
Stony Corals come in several types. Branching corals, like the Elkhorn coral on Carysfort reef. Brain corals, like the one on the right on Snapper ledge.
Or encrusting coral. This one is from Hens and Chickens, just south of Key Largo. Stony Corals live as a result of a symbiotic relationship between the coral polyp and an alga called “zooxanthellae”. It is this alga that gives the coral it’s natural color. The alga is a plant which photosynthesizes to produce sugars. The coral is an animal which consumes the sugars produced by the algae and excretes waste. The algae use the waste as a type of fertilizer to grow.
When the coral is stressed, by any of the mechanisms described above, the coral expels the algae. This results in what is called coral bleaching. This occurs most often when ocean temperatures rise above normal. This photograph from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia shows what the coral looks like when this happens.
Research from the Great Barrier Reef has shown that branching corals are more effected by bleaching than the massive corals like brain coral. Coral bleaching on its own does not necessarily kill the coral. It can and does recover but bleaching makes the coral more susceptible to disease which will kill it.
What can a scuba diver do?
Obviously the most important action that mankind can take to stop the loss of coral reefs is to reduce global warming. Unfortunately, the United States, unlike 195 other nations, decided to withdraw from the Paris Climate accord in 2017. There is hope however that sanity may prevail. Many state, local and business leaders are taking action to meet emission reduction targets despite the Federal government.
Another way that we can take local action to resolve a global problem is by reducing pollution. The Florida Keys is spending $939m to replace the old septic tank systems with wastewater treatment plants. This has already shown measurable improvement in the water quality on our reefs.
The third way is to try to replace coral by growing it in a protected nursery and transplanting it onto the reef. This photo shows the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) nursery in Key Largo where stag horn coral is being grown to be replanted onto our reefs. The CRF has a 5 year grant to replant Carysfort reef with stag and elkhorn coral.
.Science is working on several innovative approaches to reverse the loss of coral cover on our reefs. One is to introduce higher temperature resistant algae into the coral allowing it to thrive in warmer water. Another is to transplant corals from warmer waters such as the Arabian gulf where corals have a naturally developed tolerance to higher temperatures. Perhaps one of the most si-fi solution being worked on today is through genetic engineering of the algae to produce more temperature resistant strains. This uses state of the art gene editing using CRIPER/Csa9 tools.
“Molasses Reef is still a beautiful reef. But perhaps one day we can look forward to scuba diving on Molasses reef with additional branching corals transplanted from places like the Great Barrier Reef… like the ones in these photographs!”
Anything is possible, and there is hope if we take action and work together to save the reefs of Key Largo and the world!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
2017 is over. Whew! And while my father wisely told me when I was younger, “never wish your life away”, I have to admit that, like many people down here in the Florida Keys, I cannot say I’m sorry to see 2017 over with. It was a tough year for many people in the Florida Keys, as well as many islands in the Caribbean. After 10 – 12 years of relative quiet, multiple Hurricanes ravaged different parts of the Caribbean. Irma, Harvey, Maria… and many people lost many things dear to them.
Which brings me back to my island, Key Largo. Yes, we were affected by Irma. Most of us lost power for at least for a few days, and some low areas on the ocean saw some flooding. We all were in “cleanup mode” for weeks, clearing downed trees, etc. Key Largo certainly looked like a mess. Scuba diving certainly wasn’t on our minds in the weeks afterwards!
But man, Key Largo was lucky.
Key Largo was spared the direct hit when the storm drifted West and made landfall about 85 miles south of us in the Lower Keys. Consequently, the southern islands of the Florida Keys are far from recovered, and the last I heard some still do not have power. Buildings are being repaired, homes gutted and moving towards restoration, boats still in places they shouldn’t be in…it goes on. And then there are the islands further south… Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and poor little Anguilla! When I heard that Anguilla was due to get hit by a second Cat 5 storm in less than a month…wow! I cannot imagine what those poor folks must be going through and my heart bleeds for them, their families and their homes. Not to mention their livelihoods.
The 2017 Holiday Season
Business has been down in Key Largo for sure since the storm. Many folks still don’t know, understandably, that Key Largo was spared the worst aspects of Irma. Many don’t know the island is open for business and has been for at least a couple months and if you were to drive down to Key Largo tomorrow, it would be tough to know there was a Hurricane here at all.
December was our best month so far since Irma, and the Holiday season, which is one of the busiest couple weeks here normally, was pretty great, Many folks were in town, the weather was sunny, the scuba diving good, hotels full, and businesses here had a great shot in the arm. It was a wonderful thing for everyone on Key Largo after a tough Fall. So now I can only think about our brothers down south in the lower Keys and what they are still dealing with, and my heart goes out to them. Same for those further out in the Caribbean, because after all, we are all brothers on this planet ultimately, right? So I’m more aware then ever of the difficulties still facing many as a result of the busy storm season we just had in 2017. And after a good Holiday Season in Key Largo, I can’t help but to feel truly fortunate and thankful.
You see, Key Largo was very Lucky.
Thanks to all – Your Sea Dweller Staff
“In the end we will only conserve what we love…”
I graduated from Denison University in Ohio with a degree in biology and environmental studies. Before attending graduate school for marine conservation, I wanted to take some time off and gain experience, so I moved down to the sunny Florida Keys to be by the ocean and focus on the marine environment. Not to mention….to go scuba diving! I had always heard that Florida Keys diving is the best in the states, and in particular, in Key Largo, known as the “Dive Capital of America”. Since moving down here, I have had the opportunity to witness Florida’s environment changing; from working/diving with Sea Dwellers Dive Center, to volunteering in the Everglades, this is truly a unique destination with a huge amount of biodiversity.
With the recent release of Chasing Coral on Netflix, coral reefs have never been such a hot button topic. Watching the coral bleaching events they recorded on the Great Barrier Reef and the rapid degradation of fish life in that ecosystem is heartbreaking. This documentary is informative as it shows the viewer the rapid changes that reefs are undergoing, but it focuses in only one area of the world. So what about the reefs of the Florida Keys?
In recent history, coral reefs have been faced with large scale bleaching due to warmer water temperatures and ocean acidification. In Chasing Coral you are shown a rapid bleaching event, but it doesn’t always happen that quickly. In the Keys, we have faced a few bleaching events and the reefs are not thriving as they once were even five years ago. The reefs are still abundant with marine life and are gorgeous to dive, but there are a lot more white corals and algae covered corals appearing on our reefs. The reefs are changing.
The vast majority of scientists agree, the decline of coral reefs globally is unarguably driven by humans. The rapid rate at which these events are occurring make it hard for some corals to evolve to these changes and this is one of the main reason we are seeing these massive coral die outs. Scientists have already identified the issues and have proposed solutions to these problems years ago, however, getting widespread change has only started to become more pressing as the world is realizing what climate change is affecting.
Widespread change will not begin to happen until individuals start to make changes in their daily lives.
Things you can do to help reduce your footprint and stave off climate change to help our Reefs in Key Largo survive;
Another great piece of news is that with the growth and popularity of scuba diving in the last 15 years, more people are seeing firsthand the effects of climate change. This means that more people will care about these bleaching events and die offs and more people will want to do their part to help prevent more bleaching events. As Baba Dioum said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love…” and I believe that to be true, so if you aren’t a scuba diver, there is another reason to become certified. As a diver, you will want to protect your favorite dive spots and return year after year and if anything changes hopefully see new growth. For more information, see this link to the NRDC website.
Together we can make a difference, the marine life you see on your next dive will appreciate it!
Divemaster Natalie – Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
We all want to be good at what we do, especially when it’s doing something that we love! Scuba Diving is a passion for many, and we see this passion everyday in the divers we take out to the reef here in Key Largo. We meet many wonderful people from all over the globe diving Key Largo with us. Many are experienced divers, some not. Usually the more we do something, the better we are at it. This holds true for the most part for scuba diving, but not always. We come across some that have a good number of dives in their log book, but you wouldn’t necessarily know this from the way they act while diving with us. We understand mind you, that not everyone lives close to great dive sites, or any dive sites at all and therefore it’s tougher to gain experience. So this is not criticism, just a fun way to give you our thoughts about scuba diving based on all the divers we bring out to the dive sites of Key Largo every year.
We’ve put this infographic together using input from our staff here at Sea Dwellers Dive Center. These tips are compiled based on what we see on our boats here while diving Key Largo. We wanted to give you some things to think about, and tried to not stick to the same old tips you’ve seen before. Hopefully you will find it interesting, helpful and fun! There are many articles on this same discussion, here is one we like if you want some more info on this!
I remember clearly to this day watching on our television as an Octopus slithered towards the round glass jar sitting on the reef bottom with a large lobster inside of it. A big cork was covering the opening of the glass jar, and was the only thing keeping the octopus from devouring the lobster. Slowly the octopus inspected the jar with it’s arms, (octopus do not have “tenacles” they have arms), covering all surfaces of the jar repeatedly. Eventually, this amazingly intelligent creature zeroed in on the cork and r Recognizing that it was the key to his meal, he popped it open and that was it for the poor hapless lobster!
This was the show, a series back in the 70’s and I was a huge fan. I did not miss an episode, and it was one of the main reasons I knew I wanted to be a scuba diver from a very early age. Growing up in South Florida the underwater environment was always front and center, and I was a huge fan of Jacques Cousteau like many others of my generation. The series was about the intrepid undersea explorer circling the globe on his floating scientific laboratory, the Calypso. What adventures he had! A pioneer in marine study, the red-capped Frenchman introduced generations of people to the mysteries of the seas.
Many younger scuba divers today are not aware, but in 1942, Cousteau invented an underwater demand valve system that could supply divers with air when they breathed. This demand regulator was called “Aqua-Lung”, (same as the scuba equipment manufacturer today), and it eventually opened the door to scuba diving for everyone.
“The impact of the Aqua-Lung cannot be overstated. It was the first efficient and safe scuba set that allowed divers to stay underwater for long periods of time at deep depths. It was a small contraption with a simple design that was reliable and relatively inexpensive. This monumental advance in diving technology laid the foundation for the creation and growth of the recreational scuba diving market. Up until that point, diving equipment, though widely used for military and commercial purposes, was not available to the general public for recreational or sport purposes. The very idea of diving for fun, or to explore, was virtually unheard of.” See source link
Some time ago, the Cousteau Society set out to bring back the Iconic Calypso, starting with renovating the ship. Now it seems that although the renovations were pushing ahead, there has been a setback. On September 12 at around 2:30 am, a fire broke out and damaged the legendary ship. I’ll hope that one day the Calypso can ply the waters again in honor of Cousteau and everything he accomplished.
As I sit here in Key Largo, Florida Keys, sometimes referred to as the “Dive Capital of the World”, how can I not but look back admiringly at the undisputed “Father of Scuba Diving” Jacques Cousteau? As someone who has been fortunate enough to make a living doing something he loves, scuba diving, I can only look back at this giant admiringly, and offer him my silent gratitude. A gratitude that began when I was but a child.
After a turbulent month or 2 in Key Largo, we were happy to host our 11th Annual Key Largo Reunion Weekend Dive Event this weekend. It was a full house, and the weather and Dive conditions were spectacular we’re happy to say! We knew we were in luck when we woke up on Thursday to clear blue skies and a light northerly wind, perfect for scuba diving Key Largo reefs and wrecks!
For those who are not aware, we have been hosting this Key Largo Dive event for 11 years now, and it’s geared for our wonderful customers who have been diving with Sea Dwellers before…some diving with us for decades we’re happy to say! Many participants return year after year for this event, and have become not just customers, but friends of management and staff. Our staff has come to enjoy the event greatly over the years and we’re always happy to welcome back the divers we’ve come to know and love for this weekend of eating, playing, scuba diving and great camaraderie!
The Diving conditions, once again, were very good! Blue water and lots of sunshine enabled us to get some amazing diving in over the weekend. it was a “turtle weekend” for sure…can’t remember seeing this many in awhile for some reason! Also many Reef Sharks were sited each day, 3-5 foot range in size and very curious of the divers, enabling us to get a close look at these beautiful creatures!
The entire Key Largo diving weekend was wonderful! 3 days of diving including a 3-location dive trip, a Champagne Sunset Cruise, Saturday night Costume Party and lots of good times! A special thanks to everyone who was able to attend this year’s Reunion dive event, and to those who couldn’t make it this year, you were missed by all and we hope to be diving with you at next years Reunion Weekend!
– Your Sea Dwellers’ Dive Center Staff
So you fly into Miami, maybe Ft Lauderdale, and a little over an hour later you’re driving across a bridge onto the first island of the Florida Keys, Key Largo. You see the natural beauty of this unique ecosystem all around you. Plush green tropical islands surrounded by blue water and bridges spanning the distance between them, sometimes over distances too far to see both ends. Beautiful and unique in North America. This is why the Florida Keys are sometimes referred to as “America’s Caribbean”. After your drive down from the mainland, you are in Key Largo. You’ve heard it said that the best diving Florida Keys is in Key Largo, right? Could this be true and if so, why?
Key Largo is one of the longest continuous land masses separating the waters of the Florida Bay, (the West side of the islands), from the water flowing through our reefs on the Atlantic side, (the East side of the islands). These Florida Bay waters, and then the Gulf of Mexico waters farther south, have a different temperature and salinity content than the waters on the Atlantic side of the islands. When you have these waters mix over the reefs, it is damaging to their development. Hence, Key Largo provides the largest barrier to this happening and has always therefore had a larger, healthier reef track than the other islands in the Florida Keys. So yes, the “best scuba diving Florida Keys” is off Key Largo!
To be more specific, the largest, most dynamic reef in all the Florida Keys is Molasses Reef off Key Largo. It is by far one of the most famous Dive Sites not only in the Florida Keys, but also all the Caribbean! According to the REEF Foundation, Molasses Reef has one of the largest and most diverse fish populations in all the Caribbean, we are proud to say! The best scuba diving in the Florida Keys in general is off key Largo, specifically, the best dive site in the Florida keys is Molasses Reef.
When divers explore for the “best scuba diving Florida Keys“, they need not travel past the first island in the Florida Keys chain coming south from Miami. Key Largo is known as the “Dive Capital of the World” for good reason, it’s close, and beautiful!
Key Largo is the first island you drive to from the Florida mainland. About an hour drive south from Miami you will come to the bridge at Jewfish Creek, considered the “entrance” to the Florida Keys. Once across this beautiful bridge you are in Key Largo, commonly called the “Dive Capital of the World”. Many Key Largo dive sites are just minutes away now!
The “Florida Keys Reef Track” is the only coral barrier reef in the continental United States, and is the third largest coral barrier reef in the world. According to Wikipedia, “the densest and most spectacular reefs are found to the seaward of Key Largo (in and beyond John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park) and Elliott Key where the two long keys help protect the reefs from the effects of water exchange with the Florida Bay”
We can humbly confirm this, from direct experience! Scuba Divers that are “in the know” understand that Key Largo scuba diving is the best in the Florida Keys. Dive Sites here reflect the diversity and abundance of marine life found in these protected waters. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Most of our Reef Dive Sites are in relatively shallow water depths, making them very attractive to beginning divers as well as student scuba divers looking to complete their certification dives in clear, blue, shallow reefs with lots of marine life! These shallow reefs provide the ideal environment for newly certified divers and student divers looking to complete their training on a reef. We go out to these Key largo dive sites daily, every day of the year, and can provide the scuba training any day of the year also!
“Key Largo Dive Sites are Perfect for Newly Certified or Student Scuba Divers”
Key Largo also offers advanced Dive Sites, and is home to several deeper wrecks including the world’s largest artificial reef, the 510 foot USS Spiegel Grove. Another artificial Key Largo dive site is the US Coast Guard Cutter “Duane”, sitting upright in about 125 feet of clear blue water. These 2 plus a few others provide Key Largo dive sites for the seasoned scuba diver and for those who are interested in Advanced training.
The most popular reef in the Florida Keys, as well as anywhere in the Caribbean, is the Molasses Reef Dive Site. It is the largest, most lively reef and according to the REEF Foundation, some of the greatest abundance and diversity of marine life in the Caribbean. This is confirmed, once again, unofficially by our scuba divers who absolutely love this Key largo dive site!
Bottom line, Key Largo is known for its shallow reefs and deep wrecks. The shallow reefs provide world class diving for scuba divers of all ages and the deep wrecks offer excitement for scuba divers of all levels of training. Divers find out quickly why the diverse Key Largo dive sites have enabled the Florida Keys to be known as the “Dive Capital of the World”!
– Your Sea Dwellers Dive Center Staff
For 25 years now, Sea Dwellers has been teamed up with the Holiday Inn Key Largo Resort in offering one of the most popular Key Largo diving packages in Key Largo. Why has this been so successful? A couple simple reasons really.
Your Boats are just Steps from your room!
One thing we hear from our divers is they love the convenience of our diving packages. Our boats are just steps from your room at the Holiday Inn Key Largo Resort. Scuba divers can wake up, go eat a full buffet breakfast at the Resort, and then stroll on out to their dive boat…couldn’t be and easier! After a couple of great dives on our reefs and wrecks you are brought right back to your dock and a minute or two later you are back in your room. Your Dive Center is also just across the highway for easy access.
The Holiday inn Key Largo Resort has many amenities to enhance your diving package. 2 pools, outside Tiki Bar, full service restaurant “Bogie’s Cafe” and one of Key Largo’s newest restaurants, “Skipper’s Dockside”…a wonderful tropical diving experience harking back to the Florida Key’s early days! This is one of the best Key Largo diving packages on the island!
Our boats are fast, custom built dive boats that will wisk you to your morning or afternoon dive sites quickly and comfortably. Most of your Dive sites are within 30 minutes from the Marina!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo has been in business in the Florida Keys since 1974. We know how to treat our divers, we know what they want. There are other options for you here, and we know that how we treat you makes the difference and accordingly out experienced staff provides you a safe, comfortable, no-rush environment for scuba diving in Key Largo.
“We’ve Never Forgotten that Diving is Fun”
And lastly, we offer great scuba diving in Key Largo! Our reefs offer some of the most abundant and diverse marine life in the Caribbean, (according to the REEF Foundation, as well as our customers). The Florida Keys is known for it’s schooling fishes, as well as other marine life not seen in other places in the Caribbean. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary provides protections for our marine life and our scuba divers benefit greatly!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center & the Holiday Inn Key Largo Resort have been offering Dive & Stay Packages together for over 25 years. We offer great pricing discounts for any length of stay any time of year! Beautiful Hotel Resort, fast Dive Boats, friendly staff, and great diving are all here for you at a great package price. Call toll-free 1-800-451-3640 any time 7 days a week for your Key Largo Diving Package quote, we’re sure to have what you are looking for down here in beautiful Key Largo!
-Your Sea Dwellers Staff
As most of you probably know by now, Key Largo was very fortunate that Hurricane Irma veered west and ended up making landfall almost 80 miles south of the island in the Lower Keys. Conversely, we feel deeply for our neighbors in the Lower Keys for getting the direct hit from the Hurricane. They are suffering from the effects and can use any and all support. See link for Irma Hurricane Relief…
Despite Key Largo’s close call, we had some concerns of course about our reefs as a result of 100 mph winds. Your Sea Dwellers staff went diving yesterday on Molasses Reef and French Reef, which were the areas of biggest concern for us. Sea Dwellers Instructor Dave Jefferiss was on the trip and was kind enough to provide a video of the dives. You can gauge for yourself, but we’re happy to report that the reefs fared well. The sand channels have been dredged out some, which always happens when we get high winds, but more so than normal due to the length of time that we felt these winds from Hurricane Irma.
Irma was the first Hurricane to make landfall in the Florida Keys in 25 years, (Andrew 1992).
We feel very lucky here in Key Largo, and accordingly we feel for our brothers in the Lower Keys. One of the ways we feel lucky is the state of our reefs, little affected by the winds we did get. One of the best ways you can help support all the Florida Keys is by booking a vacation down here as soon as you can. Key Largo and Islamorada are already open for business, and very soon the Lower Keys will be open also, as we are very resilient here with these storms.
You can visit the Florida Keys Tourist Developement website to help you plan your next visit, and the Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo Website to plan your Key Largo scuba diving vacation right away, we’re open for business and looking forward to diving with you soon! Special thanks to Dive Instructor Dave Jefferiss for the video clip!
Your Sea Dwellers Dive Center Staff –