Blue Star: Business Partners in Conservation

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. The system works with diverse businesses, partners, and stakeholders to promote responsible, sustainable ocean uses that ensure the health of our most valued ocean places. A healthy ocean and Great Lakes are the basis for thriving recreation, tourism, and commercial activities that drive coastal economies.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects the only barrier coral reef in the continental United States, stretching south from Miami to the Dry Tortugas. Within these waters lie nationally-significant resources including shipwrecks that tell the story of our maritime history, as well as seagrass beds, mudflats, coral reefs, mangrove-fringed islands, and thousands of marine species.

We can’t protect this beautiful place alone. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is proud to partner with dive, snorkel, and fishing charters and captains that are committed to encouraging responsible recreation and stewardship of this unique and fragile ecosystem. Blue Star operators voluntarily go the extra step to educate their customers about the South Florida ecosystem, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and responsible diving and fishing.

When planning a dive or fishing trip to the Florida Keys, consider booking with a Blue Star recognized business and know you are selecting an operator dedicated to preserving this special place for future generations. Visit our Blue Star operators page to learn more and see a list of Blue Star operators. Please let these operators know that their Blue Star recognition is why you selected them!

Read on to learn how Blue Star operators engage in conservation and how you can help make a difference on your next trip to the Florida Keys!

Tiffany Duong

To be part of the Blue Star program is a very honorable mention for all of us at Key Dives. It means that we are committed to the conservation of our beautiful Florida Keys reefs. It also means that we are dedicated to instilling a sense of ecological awareness in our customers and student divers. One of the easiest ways to teach a person to care about the ocean is to simply take them diving. When they see our love for all ocean life, it grows on them too. Blue Star helps us help divers to care for and protect our ocean.

Our conservation work is completely focused on community engagement. If we enjoy these activities, we know you will too and we want to share that with you. With us, customers can help to remove marine debris, outplant coral, recycle old wetsuits, learn about endangered ocean animals, or the purpose of marine protected areas from one of our various engaging guest presentations.

Proudest moment: We recently hit an incredible milestone. After two years of consistent marine debris cleanup dives, which engage community divers, we removed our 10,000th pound of marine debris. It feels really great to think about that massive amount of debris and know that it will no longer impede the growth of a coral it entangled, choke a sea turtle, or act as a shelter for a damsel fish that really deserved a natural, beautiful coral home.

Conservation work: Marine debris cleanups through Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys, coral outplanting, and educational dive tours.

Captain Tony Young and other members

The Blue Star program is a way to recognize operators that commit their business to the preservation and conservation of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. I believe the Blue Star recognition is setting a new standard for our industry! Customers can book a charter with us, at a 20 percent discount, for all conservation-related trips.

Proudest moment: We have eliminated thousands of invasive lionfish throughout the Florida Keys. On average, we remove 30-40 lionfish on a full-day spearfishing charter. Forever Young works closely with Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and their invasive species program. We hold numerous state records for lionfish, including heaviest fish caught and most fish caught in a day. Most important, we take the time to educate our guests and the community on issues associated with invasive lionfish and how they are affecting the ecology of our local reefs.

Conservation work: As a Blue Star operator and spearfishing charter business, we have chosen to target invasive lionfish on all spearfishing charters. We also work with the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys program to remove derelict lobster traps and marine debris. For the past six years, I have been an active contributor to the Coral Restoration Foundation. Each year, we donate a number of charters and time to help support their coral reef restoration efforts.

Group of people in key west florida

The Blue Star program serves as a blueprint that helps us run an environmentally responsible business. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is the link that connects government agencies, nonprofits, and companies in the Florida Keys. Being a part of Blue Star is a way to show that Fury cares. With the information and support that the Blue Star Program provides, we are able to be better stewards for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Fury Water Adventures along with NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary hosts multiple beach cleanups every single year.

Proudest moment: Fury captains and crew spend their days on the water transporting guests to adventures -- from chasing down the famous Key West sunset and snorkeling the reef to action-packed all day trips. On one sunny December afternoon, it was anything but just another day in paradise for Captain Ryan Fredrick, Tomas Reiber, Abbey Brewster and Joe Suiro, the Fury captain and crew working an Ultimate Adventure trip. Watch this video to see how they rescued a baby dolphin!

Conservation work: We host monthly cleanups of beaches and mangroves, donate a portion of every snorkel ticket purchased to coral reef restoration and offer free reef-safe sunscreen on all of our vessels for both guests and crew to use. We work diligently to deliver the public an exhilarating and rewarding experience on the water in a way that honors our oceans. On this, we will never compromise and we will continue, as part of our ongoing mission, to encourage other businesses and private citizens to do their part to treat our delicate ecosystem with the respect it deserves.

A man fishing

Participating in programs like Blue Star that help assist with conservation efforts is very important to us. Educating our anglers on the best catch methods to increase the chances of fish survival when released will help them in the effort to protect our natural resources.

Conversation is key. Customers can get involved by talking about the issues, and how to help the resource, as well as demonstrating proper techniques to keep released fish alive.

Proudest moment: We were fishing a deep wreck one afternoon when we found a trophy African pompano floating on top of the water. The fish had been brought up from the deep and was unable to descend. We brought the fish on board and vented it. We provided a little time for reviving, and then off she went.

Conservation work: We participate annually in dolphinfish (mahi-mahi) tagging through the Dolphinfish Research Program. We encourage our guests to assist in tagging, which will give us better data when decisions are being made to protect the resource. We also participate in marine debris cleanups when we are able to.

A scuba diver bottom of the ocean

We feel a deep obligation to preserve and protect the Florida Reef Tract. It is more than simply preserving our livelihood. Florida’s barrier reef is a national treasure and a vital ocean ecosystem. We want this reef to still be vibrant and beautiful when the grandchildren of today's dive guests come to visit it in the future. Guests can participate in reef cleanup dive tours.

Proudest moment: Northeast of Molasses Reef, outside of the Sanctuary Preservation Area, is a popular spot for private boat owners to fish. In one single dive at that location, we recovered eight anchors from an area covering about a half an acre. In some cases, the anchors were still attached to long lines, which would have become entangled in the coral and caused damage. Fortunately, when we recovered them, the lines were still laying in the sand channels and had not become overgrown with marine life. In the same area, we recovered a patio table partially buried in the sand.

Conservation work: We have operated Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys reef cleanup dive tours, especially during the COVID-19 shutdown, and will continue to do so at discounted rates for divers. This serves the dual purpose of cleaning debris from the reefs while reinvigorating local concern for this resource that is our common responsibility.

People helping to pick up trash

The Blue Star program means sustainable fishing practices and snorkeling in the Florida Keys. As stewards of the program, we educate our clients about the sensitivity of the coral reef and the Florida Keys ecosystem. We teach them ways to protect marine life during their experience in the Keys and ways to protect oceans and marine life after they leave. We teach them not to overfish and why we have limits and seasons. We teach them how to respect our environment and sanctuary so that it continues to flourish and survive for future generations to enjoy.

Customers can get involved in conservation by joining our highway cleanups or collecting marine debris during their paddle. We also offer custom charters to do cleanups of certain areas.

Proudest moment: We wrote and designed the book “Boat, Fish, Live” that teaches how to motorboat in the Florida Keys. It talks about respect for the environment and other boaters; teaches about caution, consideration, and common sense while boating. It has three chapters: a motorboat lesson, a sailing overview, and an introduction to fishing in the Keys. The goal of “Boat Fish Live” is to teach the novice all aspects of boating with a main focus on the Florida Keys and boating safety.

Conservation work: We offer eco tours -- hands-on boating lessons that include how to anchor, how to properly tie up to a mooring ball, how to approach a Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA), and local navigation. We adopted the US1 highway Mile Markers 37-39 (Bahia Honda) and do regular cleanups. We pick up marine debris on any charter when we can. We help animals in distress (birds/turtles). We sell reef safe sunscreen, reusable water bottles and bags, biodegradable coolers, and 4Ocean bracelets in our retail shop. We are also members of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and Captains for Clean Water.

People gathered at rainbow Reef Dive Center

The Blue Star program means a bright future for the ocean. This program inspires divers to love, protect, and respect the waters they are in. We offer many conservation courses through Rainbow Reef Dive Center. Customers can participate in specific dives and receive Project AWARE certifications as a result! The main classes we offer are Dive Against Debris the third Friday of every month, and Coral Restoration FoundationTM outplanting trips the second Friday of every month.

Proudest moment: At Rainbow Reef Dive Center on November 21, 2019, we conducted an all staff Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys/Dive Against Debris trip to the USCG Bibb (shipwreck), funded in part by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. An employee had seen large amounts of trap debris by the bottom of the wreck that had accumulated there as a result of Hurricane Irma. The company planned out the dive and timed it so that we could remove all the trap debris while keeping everyone safe at 130 feet. The group used multiple lift bags to bring the massive 500 lbs of tangled debris to the surface. (Note: This activity was conducted under state and federal permits.)

Conservation work: At Rainbow Reef Dive Center, we work hard to prioritize conservation. We do this by partnering with the Coral Restoration FoundationTM to outplant corals to degraded reefs and to help maintain their coral nurseries. We are permitted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to help remove invasive lionfish and marine debris from the reef. Everything we do is documented and reported to various organizations to help them collect data. Every dive trip, we make sure to educate the divers on the delicate ecosystem they are in and how they can help protect it.

A man fishing and hanging a fish from a boat

The Blue Star program means conservation and preservation implemented through partnership and guided by science. Customers can get involved by helping local businesses such as registered charter and dive operations while learning about our fragile ecosystem.

Proudest moment: Releasing sea life entangled in fishing lines.

Conservation work: Staff attends Restoration Blueprint meetings to stay up to date and practice good stewardship techniques in the field.

A scuba diver holding a can under water

Being a Blue Star operator means that we are doing our part to protect our marine ecosystem. It shows that we care enough about the environment to actively participate in conservation. Customers can get involved in conservation by joining us for our monthly Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys and Dive Against Debris cleanup dives!

Proudest moment: Educating new divers on conservation and some of the challenges facing the Florida Keys. These brand new divers decided to get involved in conservation the next day. They signed up for our Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys and Dive Against Debris cleanup dive and have continued participating in cleanups in their home state.

Conservation work: We conduct Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys and Dive Against Debris cleanup dive trips once per month. We no longer provide or sell single use plastics in our business and provide reef safe sunscreen for no charge to all guests.

A woman holding a bird

As an ecotour boat, we strive to be an eco-friendly operation. Being part of the Blue Star program means being a one-of-a-kind charter experience by going above and beyond to educate our customers about the environment while keeping our waters protected and clean of trash!

Our customers can get involved in conservation by joining local cleanups being hosted during their stay. Picking up trash while out on our boat tour is a common occurrence. We also rescued many birds and recently some iguanas during our tours. If time is not an option, they can donate to any of the programs in the Keys such as Mote Marine Lab’s I.CARE coral nursery, which focuses on restoring Cheeca Rocks reef, one of NOAA’s seven “iconic reefs.”.

Proudest moment: We have so many conservation stories. I guess the most exciting one was when we saved a white egret, brought it to the wild bird sanctuary, and then found out it was released right back where we saved it. I believe we still see this bird today. It is really cool to think that the specific bird might know our boat and be thankful we saved its life.

Conservation work: We do ecotours full of education about the environment as well as clean up debris while out boating. While on our tours sometimes we find a sick or injured animal, we do the best we can to save animals, such as birds, but if the animal is too large for us to rescue, such as a manatee or turtle, we would call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or the Marine Mammal Commission to have them rescue it.

Visitors on a boat

We are very proud of our Blue Star recognition! The ability to share the history and concept behind the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary gives us a huge boost to our ecology presentation and having the support of NOAA is a big plus for our guests.

We have our customers participate in coral assessment for various diseases and also utilize a Coral Restoration Foundation™ app that allows our guests to take pictures of coral and forward the images to scientists.

Proudest moment: Back in 2017, about three weeks before Hurricane Irma, we had the wonderful opportunity to participate in coral outplanting at Western Sambo Ecological Reserve. We helped plant 36 staghorn corals and were able to do follow up after the storm. Of the 36 outplants, 18 survived Irma’s 20-foot waves. Seeing those survivors after the storm was one of the most incredible moments in our 50 years of enjoying the Florida Reef Tract!

Conservation work: Namaste’ ECO actively supports coral restoration programs like Coral Restoration Foundation™ and Mote Marine Lab. Five percent of all annual sales are either donated directly to these organizations or Namaste ECO donates time, personnel, and resources. We feature coral restoration in all our presentations and often visit reefs that are being actively restored through coral outplanting with our ultra small group tours!

A boat in Compass Rose Charters

The Blue Star program means taking the time to make a difference and educate people. Customers can get involved in conservation by taking time to learn about the protected marine resources in the Florida Keys.

Proudest moment: Teaching children about catch and release fishing practices.

Conservation work: Fishing in a responsible way. I try to take time to teach my customers so they learn proper technique.

For more information about the Blue Star program or Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, visit floridakeys.noaa.gov or email: Bluestar.Diving@noaa.gov or Bluestar.Fishing@noaa.gov.