Project AWARE recently named Rainbow Reef Dive Center their latest Dive Against Debris Heroes - check out our Community Spotlight story published on the Project AWARE blog!
And, you can read our full interview with Project AWARE below:
How did Rainbow Reef get involved with Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris program, and then more recently, Adopt a Dive Site?
Rainbow Reef is an integral member of and a leader in the diving community in South Florida. Our center works hard to introduce our visitors and the local Florida Keys population to the excitement of diving our wonderful reefs and wrecks, as well as the wonder of marine biodiversity and the need for amped-up conservation. We have long focused on teaching dynamic PADI Fish Identification and other courses, such as Coral Watch and Conservation, Dive Against Debris, and AWARE Shark Conservation, that seek to enlighten divers about the ocean environment. In recent years, aware of the ever-increasing threat to our treasured ecosystem, Rainbow Reef has become even more dedicated to this mission.
The Florida Keys are the third largest barrier reef system in the world, a home to tremendous diversity. Our center is among the largest and busiest in all of the Keys. For many divers, this is the first time they will experience a dive within a living reef ecosystem. We strive to cater to the innate curiosity of each diver, and encourage our guests to help protect Florida’s natural wonders. Our recent focus on Dive Against Debris and the associated local community engagement was a natural outgrowth of the innate enthusiasm of our Divemasters and Instructors - they live these reefs each and every day and feel a real drive to work to keep the reefs free of garbage and discarded junk. Now, with our regular Dive against Debris programs, we are working hard to provide easy and engaging access to practical marine conservation for our guests and the local public.
Our first Dive Against Debris event attracted a larger level of participation than we expected. The passion was so visible on all our customers’ faces, and their eagerness to try a unique and meaningful new form of diving drove us to continue this campaign regularly. As the enthusiasm grew, our staff became inspired to participate in the Adopt a Dive Site program, enabling us to spread passion for our role in the dive industry and creating more purpose among the staff in our regular dives. It has been a great success, and each of us realizes that while no one action is enough, all together we can make an impact and in particular set important examples for others.
You have an incredible team at your dive center – we’re so impressed that so many instructors have elected to participate in Adopt a Dive Site… Tell us about your team! We’d love a brief who’s who and overview of how you all came together or why you like working together.
We have a large passionate staff at Rainbow Reef Dive Center. Each of us does what we do because of a shared passion for the ocean and its inhabitants. This passion helps create the drive to develop new skills and to introduce new programs that complement each other. We of course have diverse skills and interests. For example, Daniel Weeks and Peter Bernal have a great love for advanced and technical diving, which allows them to explore new frontiers in our own backyard. Their particular skills help in the removal of debris from difficult to reach areas and under more difficult conditions.
Logan Campbell, our resident image-maker, uses his passion for photography and videography to bring the beauty of the Florida Keys to the public. His chronicling of Dive Against Debris makes it easier to show others just how impactful these dives can be. Neil Evans uses his experience in instructor development to inspire new dive leaders to take action in marine conservation. Kirk McFarlin brings Full Face Mask experiences to our divers so they can witness marine life in their world like never before. Each of us is a passionate conservation-minded individual who finds the exhilaration of diving so alluring.
As for myself, Jack Fishman, I grew up in a diving family that always emphasized the importance of reef protection and ocean conservancy. That love and concern is a part of who I am, and I have always wanted to use my energy and focus to help ensure they remain healthy and available to future generations. Through community interest, we bring a sense of place to the events. I always felt like bringing my passion through to others, and translating them into marine conservation related actions. The Dive Against Debris program allows us to see first-hand the impacts our actions can make. Watching the excitement grow and desire for more knowledge increase on the customers and staff has been beyond rewarding. It allows me to feel as if our actions really make a difference and watching others eagerly step up to the cause makes every bit of work worth it. Together, we strive to make a great and effective team.
Tell us about the dive sites Rainbow Reef has adopted.
We have 23 sites adopted from all areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Each site represents a personal passion or connection to an individual staff member. This allows for continued monitoring, smooth transitions, and consistency in data reporting. We monitor these sites multiple times a month and happily can report our sites remain free of debris. We do realize however, that outside the protections of our marine sanctuary boundaries the problem is certainly worse. We try expand our exploration to many of those unnamed areas monthly or more frequently in order to stay on top of any debris we can find.
Inside the reefs we find fishing line and the occasional plastic debris. Outside the reef is where we find discarded anchors, endless reams of rope and fishing line, ghost lobster pots, bottles, cans, plastic bags, and a host of other carelessly discarded garbage.
Over the course of numerous Dive Against Debris events and the associated community involvement, since May 2016, we are proud to report we have removed more than 1,000 lbs. of debris from inside and around our Marine Sanctuaries thanks to these combined efforts.
Tell us a bit about a typical day at Rainbow Reef and how your Adopt a Dive Site actions fit into your daily schedule.
We offer trips to the local marine sanctuaries twice daily, with a third night dive three times a week. We include a variety of sites daily, as well as advanced trips to the deeper wrecks. Through this constant exploration of our Marine Sanctuaries and surrounding sites, we are able to regularly monitor our sites. The precise organization of the dive schedule allows for a level of consistency, sometimes even daily, to report data. Our ability to remain constantly vigilant involves customer support as well. They too are witness to what we are trying to do and they add both their eyes and a whole lot of encouragement to our staff.
What other actions has Rainbow Reef taken as part of Adopt a Dive Site, in and around the dive center?
Rainbow Reef Dive Center is a full service dive center with many amenities. We take great pride and care to provide thorough briefings to discuss multiple disposal receptacles for recycling and for trash on our vessels. We strive to recycle all our plastic use with the local sanitation department. We are also proud to have earned the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary coveted Blue Star Rating and strive for sustainability and awareness for our customers and for our staff to take all necessary actions towards conservation, limiting our waste, and our carbon footprint.
We also proudly support other marine conservation efforts in the community, such as Stream2Sea Body Products. They use Coral Safe chemicals to allow us and our patrons to safely protect ourselves from the elements while consciously protecting our reefs. Raising awareness for proper interactions with our beautiful marine environments is so important us.
One of the positive aspects of surveying sites within or near the sanctuary boundaries is that we can see the result of the strict regulations that govern the spaces within the sanctuary. However, when we thoroughly tackled debris deep inside the mangroves closer to land, it was almost like being inside a time machine: 1950’s era television sets, decades old water boilers, plastic fragments and bags galore. Amazing how things can get lost in there and amazing how easy it is to have an impact in cleaning our areas of such forgotten debris.
What have you learned from your participation in Dive Against Debris, and Adopt a Dive Site?
I have learned a tremendous amount from Dive Against Debris, and the Adopt a Dive Site Program. I enjoy watching each small action add up in a big way. For me, the outpouring of support from like-minded individuals is awe-inspiring. From customers driving more than five hours to join a Dive Against Debris to our staff members’ eagerness to participate in these events. I know now that making a difference doesn’t have to be measured on a global scale. Perhaps it is most important to realize that real change happens right here in our local communities because of the actions of passionate individuals. Watching things change in a positive way in real time and with real results is very, very encouraging.
We have continuously uncovered that debris found on the reef is vastly different from that prevalent outside the sanctuary. Finding anchors and large amounts of line outside the marine-protected areas has inspired me to raise awareness for proper and safe boating and fishing practices and to faithfully report to the proper authorities all damage done to fragile ecosystems. Now when we organize these events we have a solid understanding of where we may successfully remove the most debris.
It is great to see divers of all different skill levels come together for a uniform cause. The participants all got a chance to make their dives even more meaningful and learn skills they can take with them wherever they go, to help improve the condition of reefs and ocean sanctuaries elsewhere.
Why do you feel it is important to protect the ocean?
The Ocean is the lungs of our planet, she protects our home. She provides for us, nourishes us, provides a window into another world right on our doorstep. The Ocean is filled with endless wonders and unfathomable beauty. Our very existence depends on Her. Without Her we are lost. We must protect it and all its inhabitants so that other generations can continue the task, and feel inspired to take action and be part of something greater than themselves.
How has marine debris impacted your life/business?
We use debris as a visual awareness tool, to show first-hand the impact humans have on our environment and also, perhaps more importantly, what we can do to help. Thankfully, we do not find major debris inside our reef systems, the reefs upon which we rely heavily in our business. These programs also help to differentiate our dive center as a true local leader and a good global citizen - that can only continue to help drive business to us from discerning divers.
Is there anything you’d like to share with the public to inspire them to help protect our ocean’s health?
Don’t be afraid to take action on the premise your small steps are not enough! Each action, no matter how small sets a positive example for others. When people see your passion build and evolve they want to be a part of the action.
Utilize existing resources to start your journey. Adopt a Site in your local lake, beach, or coral reef! Go there, love your place and share that passion with others. As it grows, watch the support and results grow with it. Truly any place is possible to protect and care for with the proper passion and motivation.
When you are passionate about something, people listen. Find your passion and never stop working for it. You can be the difference!