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Saving the Reefs in Key Largo. A Divemaster’s Perspective.

Divemaster Natalie at Sea Dwellers Dive Center

Divemaster Natalie

In the end we will only conserve what we love…”

-Baba Dioum

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 forKey Largo diving on the reef 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;

  1. Buy a reusable water bottle! Plastics are one of the main marine pollutants and are responsible for killing many marine organisms every year.
  2. 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.
  3. Car pool, ride bikes, use public transportation. The emissions from cars are one of the greenhouses gases responsible for climate change.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. Be a responsible boater. This means making sure you don’t anchor on a reef or ground your boat on a reef.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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 Abundant marine life on these Key Largo dive sites!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 NatalieSea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo

2016 Sea Dwellers’ Reunion Weekend

A Weekend of Scuba Diving in Key Largo with Great Friends!

What a blast we had again this year at our annual “Sea Dwellers Dive Center Reunion Weekend”!  We were a bit worried, the weather had gotten erratic on us, (after a great year overall), and we had a terrible weekend prior to the event.  But the dive Gods were on our side and the Key Largo weather cleared the day before the first of our 4 days of diving.

Once again, we had a great bunch of folks join us, most of which we’ve known for years…no, decades really!    The great states of California, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Florida, Wisconsin, and New Jersey were represented, (I know I’ve left someone out..sorry!).

The scuba diving was good, seas calm…and much marine life was experienced.  Many of our scuba divers know each other, and have been diving together for years also.  This weekend always brings like-minded people together to do what we all love a lot, scuba diving, in a tropical environment, Key Largo, Florida Keys!  What more can you ask for?

The Sea Dwellers’ Staff enjoys this weekend. It’s a great bunch of people we’ve known for so long that it’s like, well..a family reunion!  Good friends, good camaraderie, good scuba diving, good environment. We feel lucky to have such great people diving with us for so long!

Jim Matyszyk

Jim Matyszyk

Here’s just a few pictures from the weekend that we’ve gotten so far…it was a great weekend of Key largo scuba diving!  We’ll keep adding some more as we get them and thanks to all divers (and non-divers) Dive Key largo with Sea Dwellerswho attended!


Jim Mat

Jim Matyszyk


scuba diving fans!

florida keys number one in areareunion9

all of us diving today!

reunion7Scuba diving Reunion Weekend Florida Keysa song in the florida keys
Good scuba diving!Dive sunset

Great diving in key largo

Jim Matyszyk

Key largo reinion dive weekendGood friends in Key largo

Key Largo “Marine Life Series” – The Snapper

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Photo by Bob Haff


To most divers who know, Key Largo diving means marine life, and lots of it!  In particular, Key Largo and the Florida Keys are known for it’s schooling fishes…and it’s a world class destination in this regard!  When people think of coming to Key Largo to Scuba dive, most regular visitors think about these two related species. Whether its looking at large schools of them on the reef, or enjoying a dinner of yellow tail snapper after a fun day of diving, Key Largo makes it’s living on Snappers!

Snapper get their name from their behavior of snapping their jaws when they are hooked. The Grunt, a member of the Snapper family, makes an unusual “grunt” sound when they grind their teeth together. All Snappers are nocturnal feeders and gather in small to large groups which drift in the shadows and under overhangs during the day.




Photo by David Jefferiss

Probably the most frequently seen schooling fish are Blue Stripped Grunts. These were shot on Snapper Ledge, one of our most famous dive sites for schooling fish.



Photo by Jim Matyszyk

Photo by Jim Matyszyk

On Molasses reef scuba divers frequently see schools of mahogany snapper mixed in with French grunts. Small mouth grunts can be identified by their smaller size as well as their distinctive yellow stripes.


A Yellowtail off the coast of Key Largo, Florida Keys.

Photo by Bob Haff

SDweb272[2]The Mutton Snapper is one of the larger members of the Snapper family. The larger Snappers tend to be more solitary, and generally can be a bit skittish around scuba divers.




Most fishermen agree…pound for pound, the Snapper is one of the toughest fish to haul in by by hook & Line…


This is a small selection of the members of the Snapper family that you can expect to see when you are scuba diving Key Largo waters with Sea Dwellers Dive Center. Next time you come diving with us, why don’t you try to count the number of different types of Grunts and Snappers you can identify on each dive? It is almost impossible to do a dive off Key Largo without seeing at least two or three species, and I think you will be surprised to see what a large selection you come up with. There are about 10 different species of Snappers commonly seen while diving Key Largo waters.

Thanks to all!
Your Sea Dwellers Staff!

Scuba Diving & Photography Series – Part 6

Welcome to the last installment of our “Photography Series” Scuba Diving Blog!

Part 6 – Getting the best from your strobes

Having talked about what the strobe does for you and the things that you need to think about to use them effectively, it’s time to consider the variety of ways we can use the strobes to enhance our underwater pictures.

The first thing to understand is a formula. That is that Total light equals the sum of  Vertical light and Horizontal light. This diagram illustrates the concept. We can produce infinite variations of the picture by changing the amount of light from each source being used in an image.

As we are scuba diving, we adjust the amount of vertical light in the picture, so we will be changing the color of the background. We can take the background from black, where we allow no vertical light in, to a light blue where we add a lot of ambient light. This is probably a good place to start to compose our picture. Start by tSlide1urning your strobes off and take a sequence of photographs varying the aperture with a  shutter speed of 1/125th until you get the background color you are looking for. Point the camera, with the sun at your back into the blue water. Quite frequently, if you are scuba diving in the tropical waters of Key Largo, a good place to finish will be about f8 at 1/125th. at an ISO of 200. Obviously, less light will make the background darker, an22108007d more light, lighter. Once you have a background color to your liking, turn on one of the strobes and point it at your subject. Start on low power on the strobe and take a photograph. Review the result in the LCD screen and adjust the strobe power accordingly, increasing or decreasing the power. You can then turn on the second strobe to fill in any areas you think could do with some extra light.

In this picture of a Nassau Grouper, the shutter speed was 1/200th of a second with a small aperture and the strobe power was on high. This eliminated the vertical (ambient) light and made the backgound dark to avoid lighting a distracting background.

2007-08-29DSC_0008 (1)

By contrast, this picture of a scuba diver on Molasses reef used a slower shutter speed of 1/125th with an aperture of F9 to allow more of the background light in to show the divers in the distance and give an idea of the size of the reef. The power of the strobe was increased until the lighting on the Atlantic Spadefish highlighted them just enough.

This picture of Divemaster Nick scuba diving on one of his rare days off used a slow shutter speed of 1/60th of a second combined with20090903-_DSC6104 as Smart Object-1 a large exposure of f5.6 to lighten the water on what was a fairly dark day. When you use a slower shutter speed on a moving object with a strobe, there isn’t much risk of motion blur because the strobe, which is lighting the foreground object is only typically illuminated for 1/1000th of a second, effectively freezing any motion.snapper_20080917_0038

This close up of a butterfly fish taken on Snapper ledge, was again taken with a fast shutter speed and small aperture to avoid lighting the brain coral in the background. It was taken using only a single flash to create an interesting shadow and provide some depth into what would otherwise be a “flat” photograph.

Remember that the most important point about using strobes is to use them to balance the horizontal and vertical light. We also use it to bring out the hidden color of underwater lifeMolassass_20080914_0036. These two photographs of the Spanish Anchor on Molasses reef illustrate the point. The photo on the left was takenDSC_1139 using only vertical light. The one on the right balances the  horizontal and vertical light to get a nice blue background and uses the horizontal light to bring out the hidden color.

It also shows how important it is to follow the golden rule of Underwater Photography – While you are scuba diving and taking photographs, get close to the subject and when you think you’re close enough – get closer!

Happy shooting to all you Underwater Photographers out there.   Keep diving, and keep shooting, as the best way to improve your abilities with a camera is experience, especially in the particularly demanding environment of salt water. And heck, it’s a great excuse to do more scuba diving in Key Largo after all!

Instructor Dave Jefferiss

For those who want to continue to learn about Underwater Photography, here is information on our “Digital underwater Photography Specialty Course”.    (And it’s taught by Instructor Dave himself!)

From the staff of Sea Dwellers, we want to extend a special thanks to Dave for his time and efforts creating this great series of Underwater Photography Blogs!



Divemaster Jacob in Key Largo

Every summer, Sea Dwellers Dive Center hosts a couple Divemaster Interns. During this time, usually around 3 months or so, these interns earn their certifications whilejacob1 working with us… a type of “symbiotic relationship” if you will.  It usually works out well, we get extra help during our busy time, and the Interns scuba dive a lot, earn their certs, and have a pretty good time hanging in Key Largo. This year, we’ve been lucky to work with Jacob in this capacity. Jacob has been quite the asset for us, he works hard, and is a pleasure to be around. we knew Jacob prior to his internship, like many of the Interns we get, so it was not a surprise that he was going to be one of the great ones!

Jacob’s Project

image1Jacob has had an interesting relationship scuba diving the Florida Keys over the last 8-9 years. And he was involved with a pretty amazing High School Project on reef coral ecology which involved many visits to the Keys, and much Key Largo scuba diving!  I’ll let him tell the story, one I think those who love scuba diving Key Largo will appreciate!

Jacob’s Own Words

“In eighth grade I wrote an essay for the chance to win an opportunity to come down to south Florida on a school-run marine biology trip to scuba dive and study the unique subtropical ecosystem here in the Florida Keys. For someone born and raised in Westchester County, New York, it was an incredible experience to explore this unfamiliar environment. Additionally, I became more aware of the environmental issues and concerns in this region. Where I grew up, we did not have daily reminders of environmental damage and its ripple effects, so I wasn’t truly aware of how serious it can be.

After that first trip in 8th grade, I made it into a yearly endeavor that greatly expanded my knowledge of the local reef environment. In my sophomore year of high school, I chose to take join a 3-year science research course where I had to develop my own science experiment with an original hypothesis. The same year on the marine biology trip to the Keys, we added a day working with the Coral Restoration Foundation to the curriculum. On each of our trips, a group of 10 to 15 of students worked with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) in the water to help prepare, restore, and outplant, or directly place Acropora cervicornis coral fragments onto reefs. I was not only able to dive down and attach coral fragments to restoration structures, I also got the opportunity to scrape algae off the reefs, attach blue play-doh like epoxy, and meticulously put coral fragments into place so they could thrive in the wild. Each experience enhanced my interest in the ocean and our recognition of the seemingly endless list of negative impacts on the reefs: rising ocean temperatures, pollution, disease, and bleaching. The reality is clear. The reefs have become so degraded that they currently cannot recuperate without human intervention.

If I had not visited the Keys and learned about the current environmental crisis here, I would have never thought about how I could help and started the journey that led me here today. Learning about the problem and its possible solutions helped me to choose coral growth and restoration as my research topic in high school. As I presented my project at several symposiums and explained it to various people I was constantly educating people that are not directly affected by these problems about what’s happening to the reefs.

On all of our marine biology trips we always dove with Sea Dwellers Dive Center, where environmental conservation is stressed in every dive briefing. In May of this year I left my hometown of Croton-on-Hudson, New York to spend the summer first as an intern as I worked towards my Divemaster certification and then as an employee working as a Divemaster on the boat. In both of these positions, I am able to constantly educate people about what affects our reef ecosystem and why we need to change our lifestyles to conserve the places we love to dive.”

Jacob was one of the best Divemaster Interns we’ve had in the almost 22 years at Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo.  We had a great summer, one of the busiest we’ve had in years. We all worked extra hard, engaged in much Key Largo diving, and got to know our new Divemaster and friend, Jacob.   Thanks for everything Jacob!

Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo



Why Key Largo Diving?

Top answers to “Why Key Largo Diving?”

There are many places you can go on a scuba diving vacation, right?  So, “why Key Largo diving?”…some might ask. Well maybe you think us Conchs hanging out way down south in the Florida Keys are pretty isolated…but we do hear things…as the ‘ol saying goes.  And here are top 3 answers for that simple question above.

Reason #1 – Key Largo Marine LifeFlorida keys diving, schooling fishes!

According to the REEF Foundation, there are 2 dive sites in the Florida Keys diving rated in the Top 20 dive sites with the greatest abundance and diversity of marine life in the entire Carribbean. Molasses Reef and French Reef.  That’s a lot of awesome dive sites, so we’re pretty proud of that! About 30 years ago, Rick Freshee, a world-renowned Underwater Photographer and good friend of my father, made the comment…”Key Largo is one of the top spots in the world for schooling fishes”… and Rick would certainly know. Before he passed at a too-young age, he traveled the world for decades to diving destinations far and wide.  So this comment is pretty signifigant, and Key Schooling Spadefish off key LargoLargo IS still known for the schooling fish for those that know.  But scuba divers know that the Florida Keys are also one of the top areas in the Caribbean for bigger fish like Grouper and Snapper whose numbers have unfortunately continued to drop in many islands in the Caribbean due to over-fishing. It’s really a shame, but it’s true…the marine life in many places in the caribbean are in decline. Thanks to the efforts of many divers and Dive Centers in the Florida Keys, along with the implementation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the marine life here is NOT in decline today on our reefs we’re happy to report!


Reason #2 – Accessibility of the Florida Keys

It’s simple really.  You can drive here, and you do not need a passport to visit & dive.  We do not charge you an entry or exit fee like many islands do… (what ARE those about anyway and who really gets the dough???)     We speak your language, and as much as I hate to say this… we do not hate you.  (Note this only applies to a few dive destinations in exotic places, but it is an emerging reality in the world we live in).

Reason #3 – The Florida Keys are just cool… ya know?Florida Keys and hemingway

Hemingway, Buffet, Rum Runners, Key Lime Pie & fish sandwiches.  Pretty cool, huh? Oh, and lots of sunshine and great scuba diving.  Now why the heck wouldn’t you want to come on down and do some Key largo Diving?

Let us know if you have any other reasons…


PS – thanks to Jim Matyszyk and Bob Haff for the Schooling fish photographs!

Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo 99850 Overseas Highway Key Largo, FL 33037 1-800-451-3640