The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is the only non-profit dedicated to supporting the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and DeeperBlue.com had the opportunity to sit down with their Conservation Manager Kayleigh Michaelides to talk about the sanctuaries office’s initiative Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys.

This is an ongoing program that was developed in response to the incredible amounts of marine debris that were displaced by Hurricane Irma. The National Marine Sanctuaries office runs the effort, and the foundation supports it.

In the wake of the storm, flyovers and beach surveys revealed a disheartening truth: Tons of garbage, single-use plastics, and ghost gear had washed up on the beach, and worse, untold heaps still remained below. Enter Goal: Clean Seas.

Under the aegis of the new initiative, the NMSF has been able to channel financial support to local dive operations in removing and disposing of marine debris. Its success has been built upon the foundation poured by an earlier Office of National Marine Sanctuaries initiative — the Blue Star Operator recognition program that promotes dive shops and tour leaders that actively incorporate conservation and ocean-friendliness into their business approach. With the advent of the Goal: Clean Seas program, many of those operators chose to take the next step in reef conservation: active restoration.

They all use the money in different ways. Some operators take customers out for clean-up dives, others take youth volunteers, still others plan clean-up events, and the NMSF supports it all. Their funding goes toward the boat hire, fuel, crew, equipment, and even disposal, which the operators handle at the end of each event. The first clean-up took place in July of this year, and since then almost a dozen more events resulted in the collection of 5,958 pounds of debris and 5,517 feet of line by 57 pro divers and 159 recreational divers who have contributed more than 410 dive hours to the cause. The debris they’ve removed ranges from damaged lobsters traps and monofilament to construction debris, general garbage, anchors, chains, and single-use plastics.

Once all the material has been collected and disposed of, Blue Star operators report back to the Foundation and PADI’s Project AWARE so that there’s always fresh data to show what’s being accomplished.

Ultimately, the NMSF has two aims with the Goal: Clean Seas program. The first is to raise awareness and promote stewardship of the reefs of the Florida Keys. The second is to benefit local economies and to empower locals to respond to disasters like Hurricane in the future by helping to create infrastructure, protocols, and whatever other resources may be necessary to make this a long-term solution.

If you’re planning a trip to Florida and prefer to spend your valuable dive funds with operators who go the extra mile for conservation, take a look at their list of current Blue Star Operators. For divers or operators interested in joining the effort, here’s a link to the NMSF call for applications for funding. Do you live inland or is a monetary donation just more your speed? Click here to offer what support you can. The ocean will thank you!

If you’re lucky enough to be on the DEMA convention floor, stop by booth 2870 to find out more about the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. And while you’re there, don’t forget to pick up the latest volume of NOAA’s Earth is Blue magazine. It’s full of gorgeous photos and interesting stories that will have you falling in love with the ocean all over again.

Goal
Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys

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