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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 12, 2013

Contact:
Mary Tagliareni, 305-852-7717
Vernon Smith, 301-713-7248

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes newest dive operator into coral conservation and education program

NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary recently welcomed Sunshine Coast Adventures of Tavernier, Fla., as the newest participant in the sanctuary's Blue Star education and conservation program.

Launched in 2009, Blue Star salutes charter companies that help protect the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem by promoting responsible diving and snorkeling practices, and educating their patrons on the role humans play in reef health. Unlike some of the more global causes of reef decline - such as climate change - damage to reefs from diving and snorkeling is considered easily preventable at the local level through education and experience.

"We are delighted to welcome Sunshine Coast Adventures into the Blue Star program and applaud their commitment to conservation and education," said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. "Dive and snorkel operators have the opportunity to inspire stewardship among the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Keys' reefs each year, and through the Blue Star program, charter businesses are working together to protect these fragile coral reefs for future generations."

Home to the third-largest barrier coral reef in the world, the sanctuary's protected waters attract millions of visitors each year and contribute an estimated two billion in annual tourist revenue. The reef's close proximity to land and an abundance of boat operators in the Keys make it easily accessible to both novice snorkelers and seasoned divers.

Blue Star operators are required to attend training annually on issues affecting coral reefs, sanctuary regulations and coral reef etiquette. In turn, Blue Star operators educate their customers by incorporating the information into certification classes and dive briefings. They also must offer conservation related dive courses and participate in activities such as fish counts and reef clean-ups. Operators are re-evaluated every year.

Blue Star is funded in part by a grant from Mote Marine Laboratory's "Protect Our Reef" Grants Program. Visit www.sanctuarybluestar.org for more information on the program and a list of recognized operators.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online at floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebooklink leaves government site.

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