A scuba diving trip and planting corals is something I’ve wanted to do with my son, Jacob, for a long time, but I never anticipated just how amazing an experience it would turn out to be. It was so incredible that I was buzzing on a natural high from it for the entire day afterwards.

On the morning of May 30, we met up with a group of three interns from I.CARE (Islamorada Conservation and Restoration Education) at the barn at Bud n’ Mary’s for the educational portion of the day.  The interns, McKenzie Kawahara, Alene Nelson and Nathan Greenslit, have all completed their bachelor’s degrees and are all passionate about helping to save our coral reefs.

We learned that I.CARE plants and maintains corals, monitors them and conducts surveys before and after the plantings.  We also learned that corals support 25% of ocean life — in addition to being a huge part of the “blue economy.”  The main threats to our coral reefs are warming waters, a decline in water quality, disease and predation.

After the presentation and some hands-on experience in how we were going to go about planting the staghorn corals, we got a tour of the site of the future coral nursery that I.CARE, in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory, is going to have near the Bud n’ Mary’s barn. Tanks are all set up there with a system that filters water sourced directly from the ocean.

Then, it was time for a lunch break and to get ready for the fun part of the day — the diving trip to plant corals. We stopped off at home for lunch, then got all our gear together and headed over to Islamorada Dive Center.  There, we had the pleasure of meeting Kylie Smith, co-founder of I.CARE, who went along on the dive.

As the boat made its way to our dive site, an area of the reef called Rocky Top, we began to get our gear on and prepare for the dive.  I got certified with my children, Jacob and Claire, a few years ago, mainly because Jacob was so interested in diving and wanted me to do it with him.  Although it was a bit outside my comfort zone, I have grown to love the sport. And, after the I.CARE dive, I can truly say I’m hooked.

Admittedly, I still feel a bit clumsy when it comes to diving, especially when compared with Jacob, who seems so at home in the ocean.  However, once I get past clomping across the boat with the heavy tank strapped to my back, and entering the water via the “giant stride,” the fun part begins. 

Once we begin the descent into the water, we enter a completely different world.  I think the magic of diving is that you never know what you’re going to see.  Whether it’s a huge school of fish, glowing in the water and the sunlight, a shark or a giant eel, each trip is different.


Nothing so far has topped the experience of preparing the rock bed, hammering in the nails and attaching the corals with zip ties. It’s one of those surreal moments in life where you think to yourself, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.”

Greenslit worked with us to successfully plant five baby corals. As we surveyed our work afterward, I felt a sense of pride that we had planted a little garden there in the ocean and were doing our own small part to help restore the reefs.

Since we had air remaining in our tanks, we got a personalized tour of the reef, writing down the names of different corals as we went. Greenslit is a brilliant young scientist who wants to write his master’s thesis on the reproduction of corals. His passion for corals showed through as he took us around this underwater kingdom.

After surfacing and switching out our tanks, we did our second dive at the same site to collect yellow-footed snails, which eat corals.  Although we managed to bag a few of them, Greenslit wrote on his paper that there weren’t many that day and proceeded to take us on another guided tour of the reef.  Seeing the passion that he, Smith, and the other interns exude about the reefs gives one hope for the future of our planet.

What an incredible experience, not only to be able to participate in this, but to do so with my son, who also has a deep love of the ocean and aspires one day to be a biologist himself. I feel honored that not only does he love to dive, he loves to dive with his mom. 

No diving trip would be complete for us without our traditional meal out afterward at Lazy Days. Exhausted after the diving and the hard work of planting the corals, we reflected on what an amazing experience it had been.

A thanks goes out to I.CARE not only for what they’re doing for our reefs, but for allowing lay people such as ourselves to get involved.  It’s a great honor and privilege to get to experience this magic and we can’t wait to get back out and do it again. Next time, my daughter, Claire, will be joining us as well.

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Amy lives in the Upper Keys with her husband and two kids. She's written for various newspapers and magazines, including a national fly fishing magazine.