Key Dives began running community cleanup dives in August of 2018 through the Goal Clean Seas: Florida Keys program. This program was enacted to combat the excessive household and construction debris that littered the reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary after Hurricane Irma hit in September, 2017. The program involved providing grant money to Blue Star recognized dive shops and tour operators to conduct cleanups. At Key Dives, we really wanted to involve the community, so we used that money to offer free diving to locals on cleanup days. The shop hosts two cleanup dives each month involving up to 18 local divers each day who are taking pride in their role in cleaning up the reef systems of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Debris has accumulated on these reefs largely due to Hurricane Irma as well as from ongoing commercial and recreational fishing and trapping activities in the sanctuary. Since the program started, Key Dives customers and employees have removed over 4,000 lbs of marine debris. The Goal: Clean Seas program as a whole saw 10,000 lbs of marine debris removed in its first year. All of this debris can be easily tracked through the Project AWARE Dive Against Debris Map. Many Key Dives volunteers have even become debris experts and achieved free Dive Against Debris Specialty certifications with Key Dives instructors.
When people ask “What makes these cleanup efforts so successful?” our answer is simple, it is all about community involvement. When you come up from a cleanup dive, the excitement on the boat is undeniable. It is as if we have just come up from a dive with Manta Rays or Hammerheads, but instead, the excitement is over getting our hands dirty and protecting our coral reefs for our children and grandchildren. Our customers truly love to dive with a purpose and are always eager for the next conservation activity.
These cleanup dives are supported by a grant from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Foundation through the Goal Clean Seas: Florida Keys debris removal efforts. Grants are awarded only to Blue Star recognized operators; an honor that Key Dives happily upholds through active coral conservation and education with our customers every single day.
Cleanup divers have not only been rewarded with the personal gratification of being ocean guardians; they are also rewarded with prizes from local business owners that support the mission as well as Project AWARE who has donated cleanup gear and giveaways. An end of winter party Dive Against Debris in Colder Seas is being hosted by Key Dives at the Florida Keys Brewing company where over 80 winter volunteer divers are being rewarded with free beer and prizes. Despite the lower temperature and rougher seas November through February, this incentive program along with the genuine excitement of our customers has afforded us a full boat and even a waiting list of eager cleaners every cleanup dive day.
The Goal: Clean Seas program has given us the tools to empower locals and visitors to care for our reefs and preserve them for future generations. It is our hope at Key Dives that the program continue to grow and to engage more of the local community. Cleanup Dives with Key Dives will continue to run every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month. Come out with us and make a difference diving against debris!
Marine Conservation Coordinator