I love you, Florida Keys.
I’m elated when I think of you. Free.
I picture myself drifting in your crystal-clear, turquoise waters, discovering patch reefs, and swimming with southern stingrays and nurse sharks. Thankfully, I experience this occur frequently these days.
I impulsively relocated to the Keys in September 2018 after submitting an application for an internship in coral restoration on Instagram. I didn’t know what to anticipate, but I was interested in scientific diving, anxious to have an influence, and unclear of my true mission in life.
I didn’t realize then how important you are to our sanctuary and to the community’s economy. I distinguished between the lovely blue ocean and the land. Now I see how closely these two ecosystems are related to one another.
When the land is properly managed, it filters out dangerous chemicals and particles, protecting the water and coral. In turn, the water supports a vast array of fish and marine animals that we rely on for recreation, sustenance, and aesthetic value.
I frequently say that people who chose you, my Florida Keys, have the same heartbeat as an old sailor. People who prefer to live near the water over a Walmart are self-selecting. But what we lack in conventional societal conveniences, we make up for in opportunities for soul-stirring beauty and outdoor recreation.
According to NOAA estimates, the local community receives around $375 billion worth of products and services from your coral reef each year. I can see it everywhere I turn, from hotels and eateries that create jobs as a result of visitors who come to see the reef, catch fish raised in mangroves, or just spend a day on the ocean.
I’ve learned that barrier reefs like the one we have in Florida, like you, are essential for protecting against storms and flooding. They act as a wave energy and storm surge buffer during hurricanes and other harsh weather, which will be even more important as climate change makes our storms stronger.
I’ve heard that the National Marine Sanctuary System will be 50 on October 23, 2022, which will be a significant milestone for you and the other sanctuaries. The stunning marine and Great Lakes habitats and resources have been protected and enjoyed for 50 years. These are national treasures, and I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful to our forefathers for having the foresight to preserve them for our enjoyment.
The fact that our sanctuaries don’t exist to keep people out is, in my opinion, their best feature. Instead, they were made and are maintained as a call to enjoy them. My Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, when I think of you, I picture myself boating, scuba diving, spending the day at the sandbar, or simply staring out over your stunning, blue horizon. I don’t think about being barred; instead, I consider you to be my home because I have discovered so much of who I am in your waters and along your coasts.
You and the other unique, magnificent sanctuaries are able to successfully strike the challenging balance between use/enjoyment and protection thanks to the National Marine Sanctuary System. National marine sanctuaries exist to keep these treasures in trust for the American people, just as national parks do on land.
People like me can become absorbed in wonderful, novel settings as a result of this important, balanced use, inspiring us to #DiscoverWonder and #SaveSpectacular. As for myself, I’ve found the majority of the answers to my major questions in the four years and 200 dives since living here. More than that, I feel a sense of belonging among you and have developed a passion for ocean conservation, which starts in your waters.
Thank you from the bottom of my very blue heart. We appreciate you caring for our environment, our local area, and our wildlife. I will always be grateful. Birthday greetings.