“Moving to the Keys and diving in the FKNMS has been one of the best decisions of my life. The blue here is stunning, and I can’t get enough of it. Being surrounded by such beauty every time I peek underwater keeps me calm, inspired and eager to save our precious ocean ecosystems and resources.”
During this Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to take a moment to highlight one of the things I am most thankful for: The place we live.
I moved to the Keys a year and a half ago to dive and to restore our coral reefs. Diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) is world-famous, and I had a hunch that Florida’s warm waters and beautiful reefs would blow my mind. What I didn’t realize, however, was that this place would endear itself to me in a way that no other place has. When I’m diving here, I feel at home. The water is silky, and the visibility can be stunning in the summer heat. We have species of fish and coral that I couldn’t even dream up if I tried. And every time I get a glimpse of the sea from a balcony or between mangroves, I feel a small burst of gratitude within me to live here in the Keys and to dive these waters year-round.
In fall 2019, NOAA held a “Get Into Your Sanctuary” photo contest. The objective was to “Show the world what the ocean and Great Lakes mean to you.” Photos had to be taken in one of the 13 National Marine Sanctuaries and were judged for three categories – sanctuary views, sanctuary life and sanctuary recreation.
When winners were announced, I was stoked to win first place in the Sanctuary Views category for a scene of some corals and a giant Caribbean sea anemone off Molasses Reef.
Browsing the other winners, I realized three of the nine winning photos, including mine, were from the FKNMS. Mike Johnson placed second in the Sanctuary Life category with a beautiful shot of a pair of barracuda swimming through sun rays, and Olivia Williamson topped the Sanctuary Recreation category with a shot of a green sea turtle swimming along with a diver.
When I caught up with the other winners, they expressed similar feelings of gratitude. There’s no place like the Keys, and here are a few of the most beautiful reasons why.
Instagram: @liv_in_the_moment, @coralreeffutures
Twitter: @livwilliamson, @coralreeffuture
“I feel extremely fortunate to be able to dive in the FKNMS for work and for pleasure. Living just slightly north of the Sanctuary in Miami, where our reefs are more degraded, it is a privilege to dive and see the diversity of corals, the abundance of fish and other wildlife, and the structure of the FKNMS reefs. I have seen huge coral colonies, several species of sharks, sea turtles, rays and dolphins while diving in the FKNMS, animals that inspire awe and respect for our oceans.”
“The fact that I have regular work that brings me back to the FKNMS is something I truly feel fortunate about and am very thankful for! I have been fortunate enough to dive some amazing destinations around the world, yet I still love coming back to dive in the FKNMS. What I love most about diving in the FKNMS is the variety of dive sites. From deep wrecks that allow for great tech diving opportunities to shallow reefs full of life, the FKNMS truly has it all!”