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How Irma Affected The Reefs of The Florida Keys

Our Crew Enjoying the First Eyes Back On the Reef After the Storm
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Rainbow Reef Dive Center 

                                                                  What Remains on the Reefs  

We are not scientific divers, but we are ambassadors to the sea and to reefs we have come to know better than ourselves. As anticipated, the ocean off the coast has changed after Irma. Our Conservation Team and Professional divers have observed the effects first hand. What we saw at first was truly heartbreaking, topography of the reefs changed significantly across the barrier system. A lot of recognizable coral structures we knew and loved had changed, or were simply not there. The sand has been displaced. Sea fans and soft corals are less plentiful; however, the substrate is there to support their return. Many high profile coral structures remain and offer ever new surfaces and ground for new life to flourish. Algae (at first stripped bare) has started to return, enough to sustain many bottom dwelling fishes. Renewal won't happen right away, so it will be important to see how that changes over time. Coral heads once again peak out from their tiny homes, raising their tentacles in the water eagerly awaiting their next meal. Some are bruised and battered, yet some life has returned to the reefs. As we move into fall, the water temperature should drop, helping to soothe the frayed nerves of the reef allowing for a faster recovery then would the heat of summer.

It is important to acknowledge the destructive capabilities of a hurricane, and the reality of the changes in reef structure, coral density and fish life. Overall we were very lucky. The reefs fared remarkably well given a hit from a category 4 hurricane. The wrecks in the Upper Keys are still standing proud, a few dings and missing pieces from the surge, but otherwise unscathed. Every day more fish return, with Sharks turtles and Sting-Rays still cruising happily along the spur and groove formations of the reefs. When these amazing creatures welcome us back to their home, we should dust off our fins, make sure our buoyancy is peak perfect, and treat the reef like an old friend who is very tired, and needs some love to get back to their old happy state. Let's all do our part and give the reefs and animals the respect they deserve as we dive back into that beautiful watery realm. 

Shayna Cohen, our Marine Conservation Co Coordinator, does a great job of describing some of the changes over time first hand:

"A month ago, in an article I wrote for Project Aware, I spoke about a brain coral I have seen wane in size and prominence over my time diving my favorite reef. The truth is, following the hurricane, that brain coral is no longer there, and the juvenile colonies I saw as a beacon of hope are less abundant, but that doesn’t mean hope isn’t still there. Hope now comes in the Ocean's resilience and strength. However, hope also comes from the knowledge that humans, and especially divers, can play a role now more than ever to help heal our marine ecosystem. As visitors of the underwater world, it is our exciting duty to acknowledge and learn from the changes left by the hurricane, and to use that information to be more conscientious and contributing divers."

The weeks and months after this life changing event will be critical. As the reefs heal and change, the communities will continue the healing process as well. And we too will need to change in some ways. We need to be that much more careful to tailor our practices and even our livelihoods to protect our fragile ecosystems and prevent further decline of so many vital reef species.

We cannot predict all the changes and materials that have entered our ocean after this severe storm. With the help of PADIProject AWARE FoundationThe LonelyWhale4OceanStream2Sea The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and many passionate individuals who make up our island family, we will be working hard to remove debris from locations throughout the Florida Keys. 4Ocean works very closely with our operation to ensure safe removals of marine debris, increased access for resources, and expanding perceptions across South Florida. We are endlessly thankful for their support in helping clean up our beautiful home. 

We encourage you to come down and see it all for yourselves. See what mother nature is capable of. Get involved. Participate in the effort to haul, remove, sort and catalogue debris. Take the PADI Dive Against Debris Specialty with us and leave your experience with real meaning and training. On the reefs one must hone your skills. Make your dives count. The PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course is an excellent start to ensuring the continued health of our beautiful reef structures as divers explore the depths. Learn about Project AWARE’s 10 tips for diving which lay to groundwork to allow all of us to ease back into safe and productive diving practices that leave the reefs in better shape than we found them. (Project AWARE’s 10 Tips For Being a Good Diver)These practices help us become more aware as we accept responsibility for our reefs and become part of the healing process, instead of simple observers.

Remember “Keys Strong,” our rallying cry for healing and rebuilding the Florida Keys.  Remember we are powerful together, and even stronger when those outside the Keys join us. We rely on tourism. We love to share our beautiful home with others and to work together to preserve what we have here. Thanks to the incredible work by First Responders and infrastructure teams from all over the world, we are nearly there.

The best way YOU can help is to come visit us in the Florida Keys.

Dive shops are carrying divers to the reefs and wrecks, restaurants are open, motels are open, gas stations are open, bars are open, roads are clear. With the healing of our reefs around us, and restoration of the lives of residents and businesses here in the Florida Keys, we eagerly await your return.

 

 

 

 

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Image Legend:

1) Molasses Reef from the sky. Some sand has shifted to the North. Many of the recognizable Spur and Groove Formations stand strong

2) The Christ Statue Still shines bright amongst a relatively unaffected Elbow Reef 

3) A Nurse Shark snuggles under the reef with some fish friends 

4) Coral Head on Molasses reef standing strong with soft bodies still proudly attached! 

5) Juvenile Hawksbill Sea Turtle Playing along the reef. Life returns after the storm 

6) The Winch at Molasses Reef is Unmoved. New Artifacts unearthed around it

7) The whole debris removal crew here at rainbow reef dive center 

8) 4Ocean on board our boats helping sponsor marine debris clean ups, making the ocean a better place for divers

9) Shayna Cohen captures a new phenomenon on the Benwood wreck, a newly uncovered anchor 

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