Great company, what, wait, why? Because our Fury tour guide is a member of Blue Star. That’s Why. Sort of like mini-Pew Ocean it’s a program run by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) which is the environmental stewardship and protection agency for the Florida Keys. When the young man gives the briefing to 50 or so customers, his message is do not ‘destroy the reef.’ Here is how. He talks about it on the 20 minute journey out to East Dry Rocks. They visited West Dry Rocks that morning, and wanted to “see if we can find some better visibility, it’s been murky,” he said. “I see what needs to be done, but here I am dropping another boat load of people on the reef, it’s hard to find the balance” he says feeling despair and I think, hey, if it wasn’t you, it could be someone who doesn’t care at all.
As a veteran ocean dweller, with 26 years of scuba under my belt, i’ve seen a ton of reef abuse, mostly other peoples uncaring attitude. Whether its because an instructor has ‘perceptual narrowing’ while overtasked with students, or tourists who just have to get a feel of things. I’m proud of this young mans energy and fanaticism. He talks about the reef destruction he has control over. Fishing catch and release. No plastic in the oceans. How the tiniest pieces of plastic are now small enough to be consumed by the oceans inhabitants without knowing it. And if you scoop up a cup of sand, a larger percentage of it will be plastic particles. He says he tries to steer people towards a non toxic to the environment sunscreen, but the one they recommend is expensive and doesn’t work, and how to make sure people are not too shallow where they’ll impact the corals with their fins or skins.
“In his briefing he mentions 6 feet of water as a minimum. Even with my experience I can’t tell what 6 feet of water looks like. I catch myself as I almost touch the former glory of staghorn skeletons still reaching majestically to the surface, devoid of it’s living element, the zooxanthellae, as I snorkel with my 8 year old, it’s as if there isn’t enough space for us, the reef and the water to co-exist in the same space.”
Most of the stony hard corals on the reef are bleached, which is what happens when their symbiont partner, the zooxanthellae, depart the safety of their host when the temperature or salinity gets to much for the algae that bring the hard corals their bright colors, and their soft coating.
We get ready to jump in. Again. It’s a double dip: two snorkel sites! The French girls are very vibrant. They talk incessantly in French. One says “Le Grand Bleu” which means ‘the big blue’ and gestures to the ocean as we prepare to jump in. I look at her and say “Non, c’est le grande vert,” which makes her frown, she repeats it nevertheless, she knows it’s true: it is the big green here, near Key West. With many cruise ships coming in and out of Key West every day, the pollution here must be intense.
Mira and I snorkel together this time. We swim at the Sand Key Light, people are knocking the reef with fins and holding it to steady themselves. Despite the briefing. Odd how we are all responsive to the signal that calls us back to the boat. All very obedient. So why do people touch the reef when the briefing clearly states not to? Human fingers put grease, bacteria on the corals. This can mean death to a coral on the brink of dying. It can mean death to a healthy coral if repeated over time.
With the murky water around us it seems impossible to find anything good to see. On our dive we seemed to get lucky lucky lucky.
Mira screams in her snorkel, a lobster! We snap a GoPro movie. She screams again, a young turtle is close by, we follow, I begin filming, he rockets away. The soft corals are the sea fans and a few finger sponges. There are damsel fish, surgeon fish, blue tangs, a French angel, a massive parrot or two, lots of French grunts, some Sargeant Majors, a graysbee and lots of humans wearing sunscreen.