“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;
- Buy a reusable water bottle! Plastics are one of the main marine pollutants and are responsible for killing many marine organisms every year.
- Use reusable grocery bags. Going along with the plastic theme, less is best! Plus, most grocery stores will take a small amount of money off your bill for bringing your own bags.
- Car pool, ride bikes, use public transportation. The emissions from cars are one of the greenhouses gases responsible for climate change.
- Eat less meat. You don’t need to cut it out of your diet completely, but factory farms are one of the main sources that greenhouse gases are emitted from, and billions of gallons of water are used to keep a farm running. One hamburger is the equivalent of someone taking 32 showers, so the less meat you consume, less water will be used and the stress on the environment will be lessened.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But mostly reduce. Many people have begun to recycle both at home and at work, which is wonderful! But out of the three r’s, the least you can do is recycle. The best thing to do is reduce your consumption of goods. Less plastics purchased means less plastics that need to be produced!
- Be a responsible boater. This means making sure you don’t anchor on a reef or ground your boat on a reef.
- Be a responsible fisherman. With the return of mini season upon us for lobsters, it is important to remember that while it is exciting to find and catch lobster, be mindful of what you’re touching and standing on when you’re looking. Touching coral can hurt or kill it, and breaking pieces off because you were trying to catch a lobster isn’t benefitting anything. Additionally, that means not fishing in sanctuaries, out of season, bringing in undersize fish/lobster, and adhering to the guidelines for your local area.
- Dive with a Blue Star Operator. Boats and dive shops that are blue star operators have made a commitment to protect and educate about coral reef conservation. Sea Dwellers is a Blue Star Operator
- Be a responsible diver. This means not touching the reef, not standing on the reef, and keeping all your gauges and consoles from dangling below you. As a diver you are mainly down there as an observer, which means not touching or chasing the wildlife.
- Don’t fly first class. Flying emits a lot of greenhouse gases into the environment and contributes to about 5% of warming annually. This number will continue to increase every year as air travel becomes more popular. So, don’t fly first class. The larger seats and extra room means that there are less people that can be on one flight, so each individual on that flight has a larger carbon footprint in turn.
- Contribute to the CRF – The Coral Restoration Foundation is doing amazing things cultivating, growing, and transplanting corals onto existing reefs and also new areas that are deemed able to start a new reef. Direct action at it’s best!
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