This Thursday at DEMA Show 2019, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries presented a panel of scientists, activists, and industry leaders to make a case for citizen involvement in and partnership with our 11 National Marine Sanctuaries.

Dive Into Your Ocean Parks, Lend Your Voice kicked off with an address from Director John Armor to give an overview of the scope of the National Marine Sanctuaries’ reach.

They protect and conserve over 600,000 square miles of marine and great lake waters, generating $8 billion (~7.2 billion Euros) in sustainable revenue, and creating over 63,000 jobs. In addition, their stewardship efforts work to address problems facing specific waterways: marine debris in Hawaii, coral diseases in Florida, and kelp loss in California.

Panelists included Dr. Steve Giddings, chief scientist for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation; Jim Ritterhoff, founder and executive director of Force Blue; Mike Goldberg, owner and operator of Key Dives in Florida; and Debbie Boyce of Discovery Diving, celebrated volunteer championing the Monitor National Sanctuary in North Carolina. Each member addressed an aspect of how the public and private sectors can benefit from and be of service to, the government-managed sanctuaries in their area.

Steve Giddings addressed ways the sanctuaries provide added value to dive operations, but also how that process is a two-way street, a positive feedback loop that helps businesses do better as the environments are conserved. He emphasized ways in which recreational and sport divers are on the front lines, witnessing unique phenomena, noting emerging problems, and helping with solutions, often before the data even reach local scientists.

Jim Ritterhoff shared how retraining and redeploying military veterans with the new mission of ocean conservation creates a wave of direct action that is nearly unstoppable. His work has earned him the honor of Scuba Diving Magazine Sea Hero.

Mike Goldberg recounted the efforts his operation has made to get citizens involved in conservation, how in taking ownership of their environment, dive operators can initiate and perpetuate a relationship between recreational divers and custodianship of marine sanctuaries.

Debbie Boyce focuses on connecting the public with the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, raising awareness not only of the exciting resource in their own backyard, but also its vulnerability and the responsibility we have to care for the diverse mix of wildlife and cultural wonders in our marine sanctuaries.

The current crucial project on the National Marine Sanctuaries’ docket is the Restoration Blueprint for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This initiative synthesizes the data collected over 20 years from scientists and local communities to recommend protections for 2,900 square nautical miles in the keys. Currently, though, the opinions being lodged are mainly from an outspoken minority of community members who either don’t understand or don’t value the work being proposed. But you can go and make your own voice heard. Public Commentary is open through January 31st, 2020. There are lots of other ways to get involved, and as John Armor urged at the close of the panel — we have to make the time, we have to find the time, because now is the time!

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