After Hurricane Irma, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reached out to local dive and snorkel operators in the Keys to help with debris removal within the Sanctuary. Through their innovative Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys partnership, they hoped to tackle underwater marine debris issues by providing funding for operators to educate their staff and customers about marine debris removal and to take them out to do dives to retrieve debris. 

During the first year of funding, the National Marine Sanctuary 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 or damaged fishing and lobster traps, hundreds of pieces of trap debris, and 16,369 feet of line.

The funding ran out after a year, but has recently been reupped, and the foundation and its local chapter in the Florida Keys will receive $134,928 to remove underwater marine debris in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. 

The foundation will use the extra funds to expand upon its successes with the program.

“Marine debris is a significant challenge facing our ocean and marine wildlife, and it is an ongoing challenge in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary,” said Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the foundation. “NOAA is a great partner in the effort to combat marine debris – working with communities to help sustain a healthy ocean.”

In the Keys, the Florida chapter of the foundation administers the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys program and works directly with Blue Star operators to build up community support and assistance with the program. 

“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.”

Sanctuary superintendent Sarah Fangman noted that community involvement was “critical” to address issues like marine debris that threaten not only the natural resource but also the Keys’ economy and very way of life.

More information on Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys work is at marinesanctuary.org. The full NOAA Marine Debris Program announcement is at marinedebris.noaa.gov.

Join Our Blast – Keys News Right to Your INBOX