Diving

Diving

Reef key to healing the Earth’s ‘blue heart’

It turns out that the Florida Keys were an early leader in working to ensure the health of the ocean. In 1960, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established off Key Largo as the world’s first underwater park. Continued environmental degradation prompted the eventual designation of Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975.

Diving

Relax, fly and drift dive

“I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. I think about it every night and day; spread my wings and fly away. I believe I can soar.” (By R. Kelly and featured in the 1996 Move Space Jam.) The divers on the boat were suited up, their scuba gear safety checked, ready to go. The captain instructed us that we must all get into the water quickly, descend, and stay together as a group – no stragglers. My mind drifted back to a time when I used to jump out of airplanes and heard similar words. This was different. Instead of jumping out of an airplane into the open sky the divers were striding off the stern of a of a dive boat into the open ocean for a drift dive along Conch Reef. First off the boat was scuba instructor Stacey Sheldon (27), quickly followed by nine other divers. Stacey deployed a floating surface marker (which the dive boat captain used to locate the group while it drifted underwater) attached to a spool of strong line. She then gave the diver’s OK sign and we descended to about 45 feet deep while she reeled out the line attached to the marker. We started drifting. It felt like we were effortlessly flying – really flying! The Florida Keys offer a wealth of different diving opportunities from deep wrecks to shallow reefs teaming with tropical fish. Often overlooked is drift diving. What makes it possible in the Keys? Wreck divers who have been pulled to horizontal positions — like flags in the wind — while tightly gripping on a mooring line when descending or ascending from a sunken ship know that a current of varying speeds rolls by the keys. An interesting historical note is that this current was first reported by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in 1513 when he discovered Florida — a bit before scuba diving became a popular pastime. The current that runs by us in the Keys is considered the beginning of the Gulf Stream System, which stretches from the Florida Straits up to Cape Hatteras. Drift diving in the Keys usually is conducted in gentle currents where divers drop down, occasionally kick their fins, and let the warm water move them along while they watch the reef and marine life pass by. It is like relaxing on a zoo tram while taking a tour. Some folks call drift diving the lazy diver’s type of diving. I guess I fit into the lazy diver category. There are a wealth of locations in the world that offer drift diving from the islands of Palau (on my personal “bucket list”) to our neighbor to the south - Cozumel off the Mayan Coast in Mexico. With currents that range from gentle to very rapid and strong, Cozumel has a splendid array of deep wall to shallow drift dives that have beckoned me back several times. Santa Rosa Reef, with its plunging walls, impressive, caves, tunnels and abundant sea life, is considered by many to be one of the top drift dive spots in the world. So, you decided to try drift diving. The Keys have plenty of shallow reefs. You may want to explore some of them first to get your sea legs, before jumping into a current for a drift dive, if most of your dive experience has been in fresh water quarries or lakes. Familiarity with your dive gear is very important to successfully deal with potential problems that may occur during a drift dive. If you are a newer diver who does not have specific training in drift diving or are diving in unfamiliar water, it is important to use the services of a divemaster or guide. Learn good underwater buoyancy control (the ability through proper weighting, use of the buoyancy compensation device (BCD), and lung volume to comfortably stay at a given depth in water). Maintaining a specific depth is needed in drift diving, especially if the dive is along a wall with a deep vertical drop-off. Obtaining an Advanced Open Water certification is a good place to start your training because the course covers deep diving, underwater navigation and other helpful skills needed for drift diving. Dive training agencies have courses specifically tailored for drift diving. The Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) course covers drift diving techniques and procedures, drift diving equipment — floats, lines and reels, the causes and effects of aquatic currents, buoyancy control, navigation and communication, and techniques for staying close to a buddy or together as a group as you float with the current. Because drift diving requires that all the divers in the group descend together you need to be experienced in equalizing the increasing pressure on your ears and other places, like your dive mask, as you descend. You don’t want to be left bobbing at the surface in the waves while the rest of the group is drifting away 60 feet under the water. Drift diving requires methods to help those at the surface, usually on a boat, be able to locate your exact location. In certain drift dive spots, such as Cozumel, the boat captains are versed in following divers’ bubbles. At the end of the dive the guides send up surface makers attached to line to identify their location while they are still under water at safety stops. These delays before surfacing are used to “vent off” excess nitrogen the divers have absorbed in their bodies during the dive from breathing air at increased pressure. Other places, such as Florida, require the use of a "diver down" flag, similar to the one used by Stacy, throughout the entire dive. You should have your own surface marker to deploy at the end of a drift dive in case you come up before the rest of the group or in the event you get separated from the group and surface by yourself. Inflatable surface markers or “safety sausages” that can be rolled up and clipped to your BCD are available at dive stores. Back to the drift dive. I was preoccupied with getting a good photo of Stacey leading her group. Then, movement below caught my attention. Two of the divers in the group were cutting off and gathering old fishing line that had been caught in the reef — a potential hazard to divers and especially fish. I thought of a recent dive I was on during which a group of dive instructors had removed fishing line from the wreck of the Thunderbolt during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. The two divers on the drift dive with Stacey weren’t cleaning the reef as part of a group effort for a specific event. They weren’t going to get a “T” shirt or their picture in the news. They were just doing the right thing – because it was the right thing to do. I thought, “What a good example for other divers.” I should note that I see more and more divers picking up trash during recreational dives in the keys. It seems members of the SCUBA diving community, with their firsthand knowledge of the need to protect the fragile ocean, are taking personal steps to save it. For more on drift diving see: http://drift-diving.divescover.com/ or https://www.padi.com/scuba-diving/padi-courses/course-catalog/drift-diver-course/

Diving

Good divers never stop learning

Listening to new divers signing up for scuba trips in the Florida Keys, I often think of the exchange between Dustin Hoffman, playing Raymond, and Tom Cruise, playing Charlie, in the 1988 movie Rain Man

Videos

Biscayne Bay terrorism training

Biscayne Bay terrorism training, Miami Dade SWAT and federal agents on the Biscayne Lady vessel. This is a drill. Reporter, Keynoter and Flkeysnews.com are the only media on the boat. Video by David Goodhue, July 6, 2016.
David Goodhue dgoodhue@keysreporter.com
Biscayne Bay terrorism training 0:46

Biscayne Bay terrorism training

Key Largo July 4th Parade 1:56

Key Largo July 4th Parade

Rehabbed turtle released 1:48

Rehabbed turtle released

Miami grad overcomes life of hardships 1:34

Miami grad overcomes life of hardships