Almost all of us have submerged ourselves in some aspect into the sanctuary surrounding us. Jet skiing, snorkeling, diving, and boating are all fun. But, these activities can also pose as a possible threat to our ocean life. The risk increases with the forever flock of tourists who descend upon our island paradise to partake in ocean fun.
Now, new educational material is in place to make sure the fun doesn’t mar our marine sanctuary.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Personal Watercraft Industry Association have partnered up to create “Blue Rider Ocean Awareness and Stewardness.”
Jeff Verlinden the assistant general manager from Key West’s Sunset Watersports is one believer.
“This is easy to support,” he says with enthusiasm, “we want to look after the reefs and environment. We’ve been doing this for 25 years, but this gives us new information.
Many of the tactics we’ve already been practicing because we’re all about low environmental impact.”
Sunset Watersports guided tours make sure adventurers don’t run into any seagrass beds or the reef. Plus, emphasize not to disturb any of the wildlife.
This is how Blue Rider works. Local businesses share conservation information with their customers; such as “Know Before you Go,” which tells our tourists which areas are restricted from watercrafts and also, under any circumstances, should they enter the National Wildlife Refuge.
The education is extensive and encourages everyone to “Minimize their fleet’s Environmental Footprint,” and why they should not ever, “Harass, pursue, touch, feed, or disturb wild dolphins, manatees, or sea turtles.”
The tips are timeless talking points to those who are not fully aware of our sensitive sea life, like Brian Berry of Alexandria, Virginia who took a jet ski tour in the summer of ’09. The tour left from the Westin Hotel Resort and Marina and circled the island.
“I’ve been to Key West probably ten times but this was my first time seeing the island and all it has to offer, from the water on a jet ski. It was a follow-the-leader system where our guide was up front and we would stop at various points so he could provide a small lecture about the area and what we were looking at. In all we rode 26 miles and it was a great time. Anyone can do it.”
On the other end of the island, Billy Mosdlech has owned and operated Barefoot Billy’s Island Jet Ski Tours for 21 years. He sees 70 – 80 visitors a week during the high season His tour is a wonderful way to uncover the island. They learn points of interest such as; Suthernmost Point , Key West Harbor , submarine pits, and, Boca Chica sandbar and are also prompted to protect the environment.
“In the past few years, we have seen an increase of tourists who are not only interested in having fun, but having fun in an eco-conscious way. They have a keen interest in learning about the area they are visiting. Eco-tourism is on the rise all over the country, but we are seeing it first hand here in the Keys,” affirms Mosdlech.”
Dolphins, rays, turtles, birds. You never know what you’re going to see. You see something different every tour. We take them past the mangroves, and some nice places, see different types of fish over there in the flats.
100% that is why we have a guided tour. To keep the customers in the areas that are deep enough to handle vessels, and then so they’re not tearing across the flats. We keep’em in the channels where they’re supposed to be.”
Maureen Healey is the executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association. She says the group is building a relationship with the Keys business owners out of necessity.
“The education will enhance the customer’s experience. So, they’ll not only be having a good time, Maureen Healey points out, “but they’ll actually learn at the same time.”
Established in 1990, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary extends 2,900 square nautical miles on both sides of the Florida Keys. North America’s only coral barrier reef and the third-longest barrier reef in the world lies about six miles seaward of the Florida Keys, a 220-mile-long string of islands extending south and west of the Florida mainland. These coral reefs are intimately linked to a marine ecosystem that supports one of the most unique and diverse assortment of plants and animals in North America.
Coral reefs are part of a fragile interdependent ecosystem; which includes mangroves and sea grasses both growing on the ocean and bay side of our islands.
Brad Lang, owner of Extreme Sports Florida Keys in Islamorada is quick to stress the importance of environmental stewardship when riding a jet ski or participating in water sports and activities.
“There are so many different ways that visitors to the Keys can experience and appreciate the waters that they are visiting, and riding a jet ski is a great way to do that. Business operators like myself, we’re committed to sharing messages about conservation to our customers, which is what makes Blue Rider program so appealing,” he says.
The Blue Rider program was launched in early March 2010 and made possible with support of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. To learn more about the program, visit www.BlueRiderPWC.com!