Did you know that the barrier reef off the coast of the Florida Keys, is the ONLY barrier reef in North America AND is the third largest one in the World? These reefs perform many necessary and environmentally critical functions. As the name implies, it acts as a barrier to the islands behind it, helping to reduce wave and storm action, coming in from the open ocean. It is also a wildlife habitat that is one of the most diverse, in all the world. The reef is home to those animals that never leave the waters here, both fish, plant life and the actual corals themselves. It also acts as a haven to those fish that migrate through these waters as well as a rookery for juvenile fish. Making this biodiverse ecosystem one that must be protected, not only for the enjoyment of all of us, but for our continued ecological life on the this big, blue marble.
This is where Reef Relief comes in. This organization was founded in 1987 by Craig and Deevon Quirolo. Their mission was and continues to be one of education to boaters and divers alike. One of the first projects was the installation of mooring buoys along the reefs. This was to stop the damage that was being caused by boats anchoring and damaging the underwater reefs and habitats. They have also been instrumental in establishing one of the first coral nurseries. Imagine taking a small bit of living coral, then separating that bit into smaller bits and allowing these to grow and then transplanting these coral offspring onto the reef. Now keep in mind that corals may only grow an inch or so over the span of many, many years. . . What an undertaking of devoted coral parents!
Reef Relief has also established national and world-wide student educational programs and local Coral Camp for kids to participate in. They've taken over the management of the Key West Marine Park, in conjunction and cooperation with the City of Key West. They were also instrumental in passing a local ordinance, for the use of Ocean and Reef friendly sunscreens. Yes, even in very small amounts, various chemicals in most commercial sunscreens have been shown to have extreme, detrimental effects on corals and coral reefs.
The air we breathe, the bodies of water that present serenity, reflection and recreational enjoyment... all things that we naturally take for granted require good stewardship. The more we are educated the more sensitive we are to our responsibilities for the world entrusted to our care.
If you would like to learn more about Reef Relief and their work, please visit their website.
When you're ready to take the plunge and dive the Keys or maybe take a SCUBA or snorkeling class, let the Key West Express be your express ride to this wonderful undersea wonder of the world!
All photos and video credit to Reef Relief and their YouTube Channel.