By Mike Readling of Ocean Rehab Initiative
The Southeast Florida Reef Tract extends nearly half the length of Florida’s East Coast, stretching from the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County, all the way down to the Florida Keys.
It is a long run that slithers outward from close to shore towards the continental shelf. It ranges in depth from a few feet below the surface to almost 100 feet in several places. For this reason, the sheer size of the tract is intimidating enough to scare away even the most seasoned marine biologist. It’s just one of the reasons the Southeast Florida Reef Tract has never been surveyed.
Ocean Rehab Initiative recently launched its Florida Reef Project, the goal of which is to employ certified citizen divers to survey the entire length of the reef, creating the first baseline survey.
Thanks to grants from private local sponsors and the Wendy and Royall Victor III Fund for Environment and Landmark Preservation of the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties, the coral reef initiative is off to a flying start!
Ocean Rehab has held three certification classes, instructing a total of 24 citizen Reef Check EcoDivers about how to survey a reef, which species to catalog, and how to document them properly. These divers are certified to Reef Check standards, free of charge, in exchange for four survey dives over the next two years.
As soon as classes ended and the divers received their new certifications, the surveys began rolling in. Data from the reef line off of Palm Beach and Martin counties has already been compiled and those numbers are expected to grow exponentially as the summer continues.
“This is a very exciting time for Ocean Rehab Initiative,” said William Djubin, President of Ocean Rehab. “The classes have gone great. The divers are very enthusiastic about the opportunity to help save the coral reefs. And we have gotten some fantastic support from our community as we expand the program.”
All the information from those surveys will be used to develop the first baseline of that reef system, which will then be used to evaluate reef health now and for years to come, as well as assist with proper management of the reef.
Ocean Rehab Initiative has spent the past two years emphasizing the importance of creating a baseline for this reef system, enlisting dive shops up and down the coast to open up seats on their boats for divers performing surveys. The organization has met with dive clubs from universities all over Florida, receiving huge support from students, many of whom will be receiving their certification and performing survey dives.
The Ocean Rehab Initiative Scientific Advisory Board is filled with world renowned scientists, all of whom have donated their time and expertise in order to make the Reef Project a success.
“I have been very pleased with the response from everyone we’ve spoken to about the Florida Reef Project,” Djubin said. “The universities have been spectacular. We will be at DEMA in November for the first time. It’s all falling into place very well. Of course, the key to this whole project is finding funding. We have several funding opportunities still open, but we need to find more funders if we are going to make this project a success.”
If you wish to support Ocean Rehab Initiative’s Florida Reef Project, you can contact Mike Readling, Community Outreach Coordinator, at (772) 631-2679 or firstname.lastname@example.org.