The Florida Keys is home to the second largest living coral system in the world and the environmental disaster off the Louisiana coast is a threat to our fragile eco-system. Here in the Keys, our job is to keep rumors and speculation from getting out of hand, so instead of filing another report through released statements, the Weekly Newspapers are investigating the situation through the bubbles of our regulator.
“We’re going to swim around first, so you can get used to your mask and snorkel.”
Leading this excursion off the Middle Keys is the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Colonel Rick Ramsay. The Sheriff’s Office No. 2 earned his PADI certification at the age of 14 and has over a decade of service with the MCSO’s dive team.
We plunge down into the aquamarine waters, where a trace of oil isn’t anywhere to be seen. We do see Nassau Grouper, Yellowtail Snapper, and Angel Fish.
“It’s beautiful out. The water is flat, calm, clear. Our water has warmed up and we have perfect conditions out there for snorkeling and SCUBA diving,” says Mariana Anacona assistant manager of Hall’s Dive Center in Marathon. “We’re not being affected by this oil situation. People are calling and asking, but business is steady. We’re moving and customers are coming back happy about the conditions and the experience.”
Monroe County Commissioner and Key Colony Beach resident and certified diver for over 40 years, Mario DiGennaro reiterates what Ancona is telling us.
“We have no problems,” DiGennaro said. “Our beaches are clean, our water is clean, and we’re not in any jeopardy at this time. There aren’t any tarballs from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and we’re monitoring it extremely closely. In the end, we may escape the devastating effects entirely.”
Ramsay and I climb back into the boat after about 45 minutes of snorkeling the pristine, aqua blue waters before cruising over Sombrero Reef.
“We right at about 50 feet. Put your mask on and tell me what you see,” Ramsay instructs me.
I dive off the boat with my mask and Tusa SP 170 Hyperdry Scuba Snorkel, and Rick hands over the rest of my gear.
Cressi Pluma Full Foot Fins and Aqua Lung Mikron Pink Vanilla Scuba Regulator.
We hang with the vivid Angelfish, and chase’em around.
Sombrero Reef, is a protected sanctuary. The 142-foot lighthouse was constructed before the civil war. The waters are only 20 – 50 feet deep, making the 30 acres of coral reef, the perfect spot perfect for novice divers.
“The waters are really easy to navigate out there,” explains Mike Pullis, a SCUBA instructor and manager for Tilden’s SCUBA Center in Marathon. “There are shallow depths, lots of sea life, and really cool creatures to see; Barracuda, all your Parrotfish, Angelfish, Blue Tang, Moray Eels, Spotted Eels, Southern Sting Rays, Nurse Sharks, sea turtles, the wildlife is abundant!”
Pullis stresses, the structure is perfect for viewing because the high lying reef structure holds so much life. Right now, he and his colleagues at Tilden’s aren’t seeing any of the effects of the oil.
“In fact, we have a boat out at Sombrero right now. 13 people are snorkeling and diving. They’re from all over; Louisiana, Texas, and Tampa.”
Colonel Ramsay tells us why diving can be dangerous.
“Almost all fatality incidents are the result of the same action. The divers are older, out of shape, and take on a wreck dive in rough seas. Battling eight-foot seas when you haven’t been in the water for a year or more is dangerous. Here, on a calm day, the water is shallow enough we can stay down for 120 minutes. You have to be smart about your abilities.”
We floated around for 40 minutes snapping pictures and exploring the bright fish, debunking the theory there’s a trace of oil in the Keys’ Ocean, and enjoying the beauty of the reef. The Middle Keys Dive Center, Tilden’s, Hall’s, Captain Hooks, and Out of the Blue, all take dive and snorkel trips to Sombrero at least once, if not twice, a day.
“I’ve been diving since I was 9-years old. I was in the water over the weekend. There is no oil,” confirms Hall’s Dive Center’s Ancona. “Florida’s beaches are open. Come dive in!”
To capture your underwater adventure make sure you dive in with the Olympus Stylus Tough 6020 Underwater Camera! This tough, smart looking camera shoots high-resolution 14 megapixel images and can take high definition 720p video! If you like to get out there and have fun, this is the camera for you. It’s rugged enough to handle whatever you can dish out, and smart enough to take incredible pictures while you’re doing it. Not only is it waterproof, freezeproof and shockproof, it’s packed with amazing technology like one-touch HD movie recording.
Waterproof up to a water pressure equivalent to 130 feet or 40m depth
Rotary locking buckle for easy and secure closure
All camera functions can be controlled
Detachable LCD hood for LCD monitor
Neutral buoyancy under water
52mm screw mount for color filters provided
Internal flash can be used underwater to trigger digital compatible slave
Standard tripod socket
Tusa M-16 Serene Scuba Mask
The new 3-D strap hugs the curvature of the back of the head with nonskid backing for superior fit and comfort. Angle-adjusting strap allows for varied pressure on the face, which allows you to fine-tune the mask on your face.
The TUSA SP-170 Platina II Hyperdry Snorkel is TUSA’s premier semi-dry snorkel incorporating several features such as the patented Hyperdry System making this one of the most stylish and feature packed snorkels on the market. The oval design, a feature unique to TUSA snorkels, has now been further improved. It provides direction to water blown upward to insure a clear snorkel while minimizing water resistance. The pipe interior, with its bellows section, has a new flush surface to further smooth the airflow.
Cressi Pluma Full Foot Fin
An extraordinary fin that makes the most of a sophisticated molding technolog previously used only on the hi-tech models designed specifically free and scuba diving. The result: powerful, fluid propulsion with less fatigue.
Aqua Lung Mikron Pink Vanilla Scuba Regulator
The Mikron is extremely small and lightweight… Not only does the Pink Vanilla Mikron version sport the colors that females love but it also has a mouthpiece that is smaller and designed specifically for those with smaller bites.
MCSO’s Colonel Rick Ramsay captained the boat and guided our way through the oil-free waters at Sombrero Reef.
Swimming with a Queen Angel fish makes for a fun afternoon play date.
Who says fish don’t have brains. The Gray Angel fish was as curious about our camera as we were about him!