Wetsuit wrangle participants and Key Dives staff sing and dance on the live stage at Florida Keys Brewing Company. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

What do old wetsuits, delicious beer and chic yoga mats have in common?

The Wetsuit Wrangle.

On Sunday, July 5, from 3 to 7 p.m., Islamorada-based Key Dives will host the third annual upcycling event in the Florida Keys Brewing Co’s beer garden. Scuba divers do good for the oceans by bringing in old wetsuits for recycling into cool yoga mats and other sustainable items.

“Wetsuits are awesome. They allow us to dive comfortably in waters we otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” said Cortney Benson, Key Dives’ marine conservation coordinator. “But, they definitely produce a lot of waste.”

Benson, the mastermind behind much of the dive shop’s conservation efforts, came up with the idea for the “Wetsuit Wrangle” three years ago as a way to reduce some of the waste from the sport she loves. 

“The idea behind the Wetsuit Wrangle is to make a big effort annually to recycle all old, unusable wetsuits in the Upper Keys,” she said, “and, we are going to reward you for recycling with free beer and great prizes from some of our favorite eco-conscious companies!”

In 2019, the Wrangle collected 185 wetsuits from around the Upper Keys. Key Dives worked with other local shops to collect the old wetsuits before the event, and then capstoned it with a fun afternoon at the brewery, full of music, eco-conscious products, art and, of course, beer. 

Benson noted that coronavirus would likely result in fewer wetsuits this year, but she still hopes to surpass 100.

Isabel Miranda and Jesus Mora were driving down through the Keys and happened upon the Wetsuit Wrangle at the Florida Keys Brewing Company. They happily participated in removing zippers to help the cause before continuing on to Key West. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

The wetsuits will be sent to New Jersey-based Lava Rubber, a company upcycling wetsuits and other “hard to manage scrap goods” like gaskets, weather stripping, compression sleeves, aluminum juice pouches and yoga pants into durable, upcycled yoga mats and other guilt-free goodies. 

Each mat saves valuable “waste” from entering a landfill, Lava Rubber boasts.

For Benson, the business and fun of conservation is a part of everything she does.

“The reason I work for Key Dives as a dive instructor and Marine Conservation Coordinator is because I want to teach people to care for the ocean and all natural environments,” she said. “Any little action that we can take to help protect our environment is an action worth taking.” 

The environmental advocate added that divers, especially, see the massive problem with the idea of throwing something away when they find trash in the ocean

“There is no ‘away,’ so if we can use it again, we should,” she emphasized.

Each wetsuit brought in for recycling at the Wrangle is good for one beer (limit one per person) and one raffle ticket (no limit). Raffle prizes include sustainable items from Sand Cloud, Stream2Sea, Lava Rubber and Key Dives. 

“There’s a lot to love about this event,” Benson said. “We couldn’t do it without the Florida Keys Brewing Co. being so supportive of our conservation efforts. Together, we are helping to protect the environment while drinking delicious beer and supporting our local economy.”

Cortney Benson, the marine conservation coordinator for Key Dives, holds up zippers next to new friends helping at the Wetsuit Wrangle. The 2019 wrangle took in 185 wetsuits. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

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