Did you know that the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world is in the Florida Keys? I didn’t know either until my recent trip to Key Largo, where I studied ocean conservation and received my Project Aware Speciality and Coral Reef Conservation dive specialities! I am so excited to tell you about my experience and hopefully share some knowledge about ocean conservation!
The first day included learning all about coral reef conservation with the Coral Restoration Foundation. We started off with a classroom session learning about progress being made in coral reef renewal in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries. Roxanne, our awesome dive Training Administrator for the morning, led us through a presentation that illustrated how we as humans have contributed to the damage of coral reefs over the years and what we can do to help reverse the damage and help the coral thrive again. She also demonstrated the coral renewal underwater cleaning and planting process we would be implementing later on our dives that day. We then broke into stations to practice the tasks we were going to complete underwater, including how to properly clean the coral trees in the Coral Reef Sanctuary and outplant staghorn corals where they will grow and thrive again. We then took a knowledge review to test our new understanding of everything we learned about coral reef conservation. I passed my test! After the morning of learning, I was ready to jump into the water!!
The first dive consisted of cleaning the nursery trees that hold the “baby corals” in the ocean until they are grown and ready to be outplanted. I gear’d up and hopped in the water. As I descended, it was unreal to look around you and see thousands of baby corals hanging on man-made trees. My diving buddy and I were assigned to a tree to clean. I started out cleaning the branches of the trees with a chivel and my diving buddy started to clean the microfilament lines with a scrub brush. It was so cool to see all of the algae come off as we were cleaning and the fish catching it in their mouths and eating it. After a while my diving buddy and I switched tools to each gain experience cleaning different parts of the coral tree and continued cleaning until it was time to ascend and head back to the boat.
The second dive was so much more difficult than I thought it would be. How hard can it be to plant a coral, right??? What we had to do is outplant staghorn coral by first finding a good place where the coral would be able to grow and then hammering into coral rock in three separate places to create a clean spot to put the coral. Using marine epoxy, we glued the coral to the rock so that it could begin to grow there. We finished with a wave test to make sure the coral wasn’t going to come loose in high currents. The surge was strong that day, so everyone swayed back and forth in the water column as we were trying to work. It’s crazy what life throws at you, because I would have never thought I would be scuba diving (sometimes upside down) outplanting corals in a major ocean surge, but honestly having fun while doing it!! Although it was challenging, our dive group was still able to outplant 90 staghorn corals on Pickles Reef that afternoon in under an hour. It was really rewarding to learn about coral conservation and actually take part in the action that The Coral Restoration Foundation is doing to help our oceans, but I was exhausted after this day of hard work!!
Our second day consisted of classroom learning on ocean clean-up techniques, which we will use in our future dives. Jack Fishman from Project Aware taught us all about the work the organization does in promoting and recording data for Diving Against Debris globally. PurelyBlu is giving 50% of their profits directly to Project Aware, so it was fun to dive deeper into the amazing organization PurelyBlu is supporting. One thing that I really love about Project Aware is that they have created an action map where people from all over the world that take part in Diving Against Debris dives can log their dive and what they found.
Next I learned more about Diving Against Debris with my incredible PADI diving instructor, Maddie Cholnoky, who led and talked through the diving for debris Project Aware presentation. The big takeaway is that humans are the primary cause of harmful debris in our oceans. We all need to be aware of this problem and take part in the action to prevent debris from damaging our oceans.
Our last day was all about PurelyBlu. We shot a new video for our website, and got awesome lifestyle photography shots for the website and Instagram. I am truly living my dream and thanks to everyone who is supporting me and PurelyBlu, I really appreciate all of you!! Don’t forget to check out our bracelets! Lastly, this weekend wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Jack Fishman of Project Aware. Thank you Jack for connecting me to Rainbow Reef Dive Center to have an awesome dive center that I will come back to and dive with! Thank you to my amazing instructor Maddie Cholnoky for teaching me and pouring all of your knowledge into me! Lastly, thank you John Garza and Zach Hale for capturing the weekend and being awesome photographers!
Thanks for reading!