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Clean Up Debris In Florida Keys

by Soraya Alcalá

National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Receives $134,928

 

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (“Foundation”) and its local chapter in the Florida Keys will receive funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program to remove underwater marine debris in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

With this support, the Foundation plans to expand its successful work on the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys program.

Established in May 2018, Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys is a collaboration with Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Blue Star dive operators to remove underwater marine debris and educate the public about marine debris prevention. In its first year funding the program, the Foundation supported 49 cleanup trips for Blue Star dive operators. Nearly 450 recreational divers and 158 professional divers spent 897 hours underwater removing 14,693 pounds of debris, 78 intact lost and damaged fishing and lobster traps, hundreds of pieces of trap debris, and 16,369 feet of line.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program offers an annual nationwide competitive funding opportunity to support projects that focus on community-based marine debris removal. Marine debris, including lost or abandoned fishing gear and trash, entangles stony corals, sea fans, sponges, sea turtles, manatees, and other marine life. It also degrades seagrass, hard bottom, coral reef, and mangrove habitats, and detracts from the natural beauty of the islands.

The Florida Keys chapter of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation plays a major role in administering the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys program. The chapter works directly with the Blue Star dive operators who conduct cleanups, actively recruits new participants from professional dive shops, and engages at the local level to build support and awareness about removing debris for healthy reefs and a healthy Keys economy.

“Blue Star dive operators know the importance of Florida Keys reefs and are actively working with us to protect and restore it,” said Sara Rankin, chapter director of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  “We are privileged to work with NOAA to expand the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys underwater marine debris cleanup program.”

The work accomplished with this grant funding will complement NOAA’s Florida Keys Restoration Blueprint. The blueprint calls for reducing the adverse impacts to key marine species and habitats caused by threats like underwater marine debris.  The Foundation will also strive to overlap underwater debris removals with other coral restoration efforts as part of Mission: Iconic Reefs. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects the nation’s only continental barrier reef and contributes more than $4 billion to the local and state economies.  A healthy sanctuary is vital to the quality of life of residents.

The Blue Star program, established in 2009 by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is a voluntary recognition program for dive, snorkel, and fishing charters seeking to reduce damage to coral reef ecosystems by emphasizing proper etiquette for responsible diving, snorkeling, and fishing, educating customers, and engaging them as partners in coral reef conservation. To support engagement in Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys, the Foundation has provided funding to several recognized Blue Star dive operators throughout the Keys, including DiveN2Life, The Dive Shop at Ocean Reef, Forever Young Charter Company, Horizon Divers, Island Ventures, Key Dives, Pirates Cove Watersports, and Rainbow Reef Dive Center. Blue Star operators may apply to participate in this year’s program starting in September.

To view the full NOAA Marine Debris Program announcement, click here.

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