Our Work

Areas of Focus

The Foundation partners with local businesses and organizations to invest in on-the-water conservation projects. The chapter’s current programs include supporting marine debris removal through Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys and the Blue Star Program for diving and snorkeling tour operators and fishing guides.

Established in May 2018, the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys initiative aims to remove underwater marine debris from Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and educate the public about its role in marine debris prevention. Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys partners work with sanctuary-recognized Blue Star Dive Operators to educate dive professionals and recreational divers on best practices for removal of marine debris; perform scoping dives to identify debris hot spots; remove, dispose, and recycle underwater debris; conduct post-removal data reporting and analysis; and engage the public in marine debris awareness and prevention through education and outreach.

In the first year of Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys efforts, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation-funded divers conducted 49 cleanup trips, engaged 450 volunteer divers, and spent nearly 900 hours underwater removing 78 intact lobster traps, hundreds of pieces of lobster trap debris, 16,369 feet of line, and 14,693 pounds of debris from Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Marine debris surveys were conducted using Project AWARE® seafloor monitoring program Dive Against Debris®. Removing marine debris and lost or damaged fishing gear helps restore, protect, conserve, and enhance marine habitats and ecosystems within the sanctuary for the species that rely on them. Habitats in the Florida Keys benefit greatly from the removal of the underwater marine debris and participating dive shops help with the stewardship of this special place. The Foundation is exploring an expansion of the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys program in three distinct ways over the next year. First, the Foundation will expand the program within the Florida Keys by engaging more partners and dive operators. Second, working with national and local partners, the Foundation will focus on how to improve recycling and prevention of marine debris. And third, the Foundation will adapt the successful Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys model of local business engagement in stewardship to other national marine sanctuary sites that are experiencing similar marine debris issues.

Photo credit: Todd Hitchins/NOAA

Blue Star is a program established by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and supported by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation recognizing tour operators who are committed to promoting responsible and sustainable diving, snorkeling, and fishing practices to reduce the impact of these activities on ecosystems in the Florida Keys. Blue Star operators take the extra step to educate you to be better environmental stewards and to interact responsibly with natural resources in the Keys.

This education is important because the natural resources of the Florida Keys are stressed by a range of daunting factors, including overuse by uninformed or irresponsible visitors. Luckily, unlike some other causes of coral reef decline, damage to reefs from fishing, diving, and snorkeling can be immediately prevented. Through practicing responsible diving and snorkeling, you can help to lessen local stress on the reef while still partaking of its beauty. You can also help protect the fisheries resources and ecosystems of the Florida Keys by practicing responsible angling etiquette, while still enjoying a great day of fishing.

Book with a Blue Star recognized operator today and learn how to responsibly enjoy the wonders of the Florida Keys ecosystem!

Photo credit: Stephen Frink

Restoring Seven Iconic Reefs: A Mission to Recover the Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys

The natural resources of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are declining, putting the future of the Florida Keys marine environment at risk. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Foundation focus efforts to combat coral disease and restore the reef ecosystem that drive the economy and local way of life. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is proudly working in partnership on an extraordinary project. NOAA and partners have developed an unprecedented, decades-long approach to restore seven iconic coral reef sites in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The iconic coral reefs of the Florida Keys are the foundation of the vibrant regional economy that hosts 5 million visitors per year. North America’s only barrier reef protects the island communities from catastrophic storm surge, while also supporting a world-renowned destination for diving, snorkeling, and fishing. However, decades of compounding stress from coral bleaching, coral disease, hurricanes, and high impact human use have significantly degraded the coral reefs. The United States is on the verge of losing a national treasure. Emergency action is required to keep Florida Keys coral reefs from collapsing beyond a point at which they can be restored and protect the economy that depends on them.

Restoration Strategy

NOAA and partners have developed a bold mission to restore seven ecologically and culturally significant coral reefs within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The selected restoration sites represent a diversity of habitats, support a range of human uses, span the full geographic range of the Florida Keys, and show a high probability of restoration success. The mission represents one of the largest investments ever undertaken in coral restoration. Informed by years of research, successful trials, and expertise from scientists and restoration practitioners, this effort complements other regional management efforts and will result in resilient and regenerative coral reefs in the Florida Keys.

For more information, please visit https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/habitat-conservation/restoring-seven-iconic-reefs-mission-recover-coral-reefs-florida-keys

Photo credit: Stephen Frink

Community Advocacy, Engagement, Awareness, and Compliance 

Increasing awareness and developing stakeholder support for the Keys’ marine environment and management is one of our main goals. As the advocacy arm of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, we actively participate in congressional visits and interactions.  If you are interested in advocating for your sanctuary or volunteering at the sanctuary, please contact us!

We are also dedicated to increasing regulatory compliance and best practices through technology, awareness, and increased capacity. Public signage and enhanced enforcement will benefit all who interact with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Community involvement is important to us!

Photo credit: Stephen Frink

The Foundation supports improving the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s pioneering buoy and marker infrastructure to support sustainable recreational and commercial use.

Every year, thousands of boaters enjoy visiting the Florida Keys to fish and dive. Mooring buoys installed and maintained by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary make it possible for them to do this without damaging the reef. Buoys are also used to mark areas that have specific regulations, assist with navigation, and provide information.

Photo credit: Matt McIntosh/NOAA