Giving the reef a little respect

Over the next several years the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is taking a look at critical management elements of our waters. This may affect not only the diving and fishing industries, but may also change the way we interact with the sanctuary.

The process began earlier this month with public scoping meetings held throughout the Keys. I attended the one in Key Largo. The session I went to was very well attended. We had an introduction and explanation by Sean Morton, then broke apart into small groups with big note pads. We were free to express any and all ideas, and the FKNMS staff wrote them down on the big pads. After the session, we heard a capsule summary of each group’s contribution.

There were lots of different ideas and some common themes. More law enforcement on the water was the most popular recurring theme. From what I recall, education was next on the list. I enjoyed listening to the others in my group. We had a mosquito guy, a commercial fisherman, a marine construction executive, a couple normal folks (I’d like to include myself in that category, but some people might object), a couple of advisory council members and a dive operator. Great mix of views and uses of the sanctuary.

Next Tuesday, July 10 at REEF, Ken Nedimyer, the chairman of the Sanctuary Advisory Council, will present an overview and address misconceptions and concerns about the sanctuary. If you want to know what’s going on with the sanctuary and the process, this is the guy to ask. Social at 6:30 p.m., presentation at 7 p.m.

The summary report from the scoping meetings will be out in August according to the FKNMS website. See http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/review/process.html for an overview page of the process. Make no mistake: this is a critically important process for the future of the Florida Keys, and I encourage you to follow this as it takes shape in the next few years. This is your chance to put in your two cents.

It comes down to this: it’s all about respect. Respect this incredible resource we depend on for our lifestyle. Respect all user groups, even if you don’t participate in the use. Respect the research that is an ongoing part of managing the resources. Respect the scoping and review process that will try to treat everybody with respect.

Sometimes on the water I see folks in private or rental boats who are simply not doing the right thing. Last Sunday we saw a boat attached to a mooring buoy on Molasses Reef with snorkelers in the water, fishing. Yep, no kidding. We politely informed them that continuing to do what they were doing would most likely result in a citation. That would be a real buzz kill if you’re on vacation. We have never been yelled at or treated poorly when we have let people know their behavior was in violation of FKNMS rules. Sometimes folks just don’t know. Education is the key in my opinion.

I found notes from a speech Billy Causey gave a few years ago where he talked about an ocean literate society. His fundamental point was education could lead to a better understanding of the importance of our oceans, which would in turn lead to a conservation and preservation “ocean ethic”. All of the history of civilization is tied to the oceans in some way. We are still trying to figure it all out. The importance of marine research cannot be overstated in this regard.

As a diver, one of the things I’d like to see is more individual respect for the reef. A while back, near mooring ball 25 on Molasses Reef, we came across an example of total disrespect. A large chunk of elkhorn coral, about four feet wide, had been crunched beyond repair. It was a fresh break, and I don’t know how much of it will survive.

Nothing else in the immediate area was broken, so I suspect it was either an anchor, a tank or one heck of a kick. Brutal. Saddening and maddening. While there is no way of knowing the real cause of the crunching, what we do know is another little piece of our heaven just bit the dust.

There have been two recent studies in the Keys about diver damage to the reef, and the role education can play. Although the methods and results were a bit different, the overarching theme was similar. According to Emma Camp, enhanced dive briefings delivered by Blue Star dive operators have a mitigating effect on diver interaction with the reef. In the other study, a similar result was reached, although the latter study did not analyze the dive briefing itself. The bottom line is the more divers know about the sensitivity of the reef and the rules of engagement, the better off the reef will be.

I believe it is our responsibility, out of respect for our waters, to educate visitors about the reef and most importantly, how to treat this fragile and unique slice of the sea.

Since I have become involved with the new Aquarius Foundation, I’ve done a lot of thinking about ocean literacy and respect for the sanctuary. The July Aquarius mission, “Celebrating 50 Years of Living Beneath the Sea,” July 9 to July 21, led by Dr. Sylvia Earle, will be a showcase of ocean literacy. I invite you to tune in to http://aquarius.uncw.edu. This will be worth seeing. Tweet it, facebook it, and e-mail it. We can begin the education and outreach effort right now as we watch Aquarius contribute to an ocean literate society.

Tim Grollimund is a freelance photographer and PADI divemaster based in Key Largo. He can be reached at tim@timgimages.com or through his web site at www.timgimages.com. Tim is actively involved with the Coral Restoration Foundation and the Aquarius Foundation.