Recreating responsibly: The Seven Principles of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
The Florida Keys: when you imagine such a beautiful place, your first thoughts are likely the warm sun, cool breeze, turquoise waters, and unique way of life. If you are lucky enough to visit Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, you also learn about the amazing world beneath the waves, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, shipwrecks and more than 6,000 species of marine life. When you send that envy-inducing postcard wishing your friends and family members were here, you hope they may travel to this destination one day. But what can you do to ensure the scenic Florida Keys will be waiting for them?
Earlier this year, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was the focus for a team of trainers from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics Hot Spot program. Leave No Trace identifies areas suffering from severe recreational impacts that can thrive again with site specific programs aimed at healthy and sustainable recovery. The team identified water resource impacts, user conflicts and wildlife feeding as issues of concern in the Keys. Combining workshops, outreach, and service projects, the trainers connected with hundreds of Florida Keys residents and visitors to share low-impact recreational messages: The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace. Read on to learn how you can continue their work to keep the Florida Keys healthy.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Whether you plan to fish, dive, snorkel, or enjoy a relaxing day on the beach, you can make responsible decisions ahead of time to ensure a safe and enjoyable day on the water. Wear polarized sunglasses to help you read the water, book with a Blue Star operator, and help reduce plastic waste by remembering your reusable water bottle!
Blue Star operators are part of a voluntary recognition program established to reduce the impact of divers, snorkelers and anglers on the ecosystems of the Florida Keys. When planning your dive or fishing trip, book with a Blue Star recognized charter and know you are selecting an operator dedicated to education and habitat conservation.
2. Know Where to Go
“Keep your bottom off the bottom!” There’s critical habitat down there. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects fragile habitats like coral reefs and seagrass beds, and small impacts can damage these ecosystems in big ways.
When you’re traveling by boat, make sure to watch the water to avoid coming into contact with the bottom, and use a mooring buoy whenever possible. If you’re diving or snorkeling, avoid any contact with fragile coral, as the delicate animals can be easily injured by dangling equipment or an accidental fin kick.
3. Properly Dispose of Waste
Don’t be a litterbug! Using trash cans and recycle bins will help keep debris out of the marine ecosystem. You can also help improve the water quality by making sure fish waste is properly disposed of in trash cans rather than in the marina. On a boat, always secure your trash, a quick gust of wind can take it overboard - food scraps included! Eating trash and human food can impact wildlife and cause disruptions to the natural ecosystem.
Want to do more? Join a local marine debris cleanup or pitch in via Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys.
4. Leave What You Find
Shells provide a home for many creatures, and by taking a picture, you can share your shell finds with everyone. Leaving items in place allows future visitors the chance to marvel at the interesting things you found.
5. Minimize Hazardous Impacts
Keeping dangerous materials like chemicals and oil out of the water will improve the water quality and the health of the ecosystem. Ensure your boat is in tip-top shape. Be sure to pick up after your pets. And use a reef friendly sunscreen.
6. Respect Wildlife
Keeping your distance from wildlife will allow them to act more naturally, and you may see some amazing behaviors! Remember to give marine mammals and turtles plenty of space, for your safety and theirs. Never feed wild animals, and report any injured animals to the local stranding network.
Review responsible ways and regulations for viewing marine mammals, birds and other wildlife.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Help make sure everyone can enjoy the beautiful Florida Keys in a safe and responsible manner. Be aware of other users who may need a little space, like divers, snorkelers, and anglers.
By following these seven principles, we can all be part of preserving the environment in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, while enjoying the incredible resources of North America’s only living coral barrier reef. It is up to all of us to protect this national treasure for future generations to enjoy.
Nicole Uibel is the volunteer coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.