Want to go to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary?
With winter in full swing, you may be wishing for warm weather and the chance to splash around in clear ocean waters.
Wish no more. Year-round in sunny South Florida, businesses and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are teaming up through the Blue Star recognition program to bring sustainable scuba diving, snorkeling, and fishing opportunities to this special marine ecosystem.
Blue Is Best
The Blue Star programoffsite link works with scuba diving and fishing businesses operating in the Sanctuary to educate visitors on responsible viewing and interacting with endangered coral reefs, popular fish species, and other wildlife, like dolphins and manatees. Recognized operators, designated with “blue star” decals on their promotional materials, make sure their clients have fun with a purpose when enjoying the Sanctuary, whether that means learning not to touch sensitive corals while snorkeling or keeping only what can be cooked for dinner when on a fishing trip.
Bringing In Business
Key to the Blue Star program’s success is the collaboration with Florida Keys businesses. Local operators work with NOAA and partners to develop and agree to best practices and maintain their status as a recognized business each year. Starting in 2009 with the recognition of scuba diving and snorkeling businesses, Blue Star quickly became a way for businesses to signal their stewardship commitment to customers. After gathering input from the Florida Keys charter fleet, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary launched Blue Star for recreational fishing in 2018.
In addition to highlighting businesses that practice responsible tourism, the Blue Star program helps them protect and conserve the resources they depend on for their livelihoods. Following Hurricane Irma, through Goal: Clean Seas, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation provided funds for Blue Star dive companies to assist with underwater marine debris removal throughout the Keys. And a University of Miami studyoffsite link of divers and snorkelers showed that customers who booked their tours with a Blue Star dive shop were 2.5 times less likely to come in contact with coral, proving that educating customers can have a real benefit to the ecosystem.
“Healthy reefs support the coastal economy here in Florida,” said Sean Meehan, NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing specialist. “Whether diving or fishing, these businesses recognize that when we work together and educate our customers, we can help keep this incredible ecosystem thriving.”