NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center of Ramrod Key, Fla. as the newest participant in the Sanctuary’s Blue Star education and conservation program.
The Blue Star program has grown to include 17 operators since it was first initiated in 2009. The program recognizes charter companies that commit to training snorkelers and divers in low impact practices, or “reef etiquette.” Research has shown that educated snorkelers and divers have less of an impact on marine ecosystems, because they do a better job of avoiding damaging contact with corals and other marine life.
“All of our staff are very interested in preserving this area,” said Will Fox, owner of Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center, “After all, it’s our backyard and playground.”
The sanctuary is home to the third-largest living barrier coral reef in the world, and is visited by hundreds of thousands of snorkelers and divers each year. This contributes to an estimated $2 billion in annual ocean-based tourism revenue. The reef’s close proximity to land and an abundance of boat operators in the Keys make it easily accessible to both novice snorkelers and seasoned divers.
“Keeping dive and snorkel impacts to a minimum is critical for sustainable tourism,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton. “Congratulations to Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center for committing to educate snorkelers and divers before they take them out to the reef.”
Operators become Blue Star certified by attending annual training on issues affecting coral reefs, sanctuary regulations and coral reef etiquette. In turn, Blue Star operators educate their customers by incorporating the information into certification classes and dive briefings. They also must offer conservation-related dive courses and participate in activities such as fish counts and reef clean-ups. Operators are re-evaluated on an annual basis.
Visit www.floridakeys.noaa.gov/onthewater/bluestar.html for more information on the program and a list of recognized operators.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats, as well as shipwrecks and maritime heritage resources. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us at http://floridakeys.noaa.gov, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join NOAA on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.