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An Unforgettable Dive: A Cry for Corals

Marine conservationist JD Reinbott recalls a heartbreaking dive during the 2023 coral mass-bleaching event.

By Tiffany Duong | Authored On August 14, 2023
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An Unforgettable Dive: A Cry for Corals

Historically-warm waters in July 2023 led to a mass coral bleaching event in the Florida Keys.

JD Reinbott

As scuba divers, we’re privileged to explore, enjoy and play beneath the surface—something the vast majority of people on the planet will never experience. While it’s hard to pick a favorite, each of us certainly has a dive we’ll never forget. Whether it’s crossing something off our scuba diving bucket list, making eye contact with a humpback whale, or simply enjoying a perfect day underwater with our favorite dive buddies – we love to share these dive stories with other aquaholics.

To celebrate the beauty, variety and joy that this sport brings, we’re sharing some truly unforgettable dives from around the world, as told by the divers who lived them first-hand. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we do!

Name: JD Reinbott (he/him/his)

Certification: I did all my coursework in New Jersey but refused to go diving in a quarry; so, my check-out dives were at Blue Heron Bridge in Florida in March 2017

Current: Marine conservationist and queer rights activist working to ensure we celebrate diversity both above and below the ocean’s surface

Follow: @TheCoralQween

Related Reading: How to Find New Dive Buddies

JD Reinbott recalled seeing these elkhorn corals – now bleached and dying – healthy less than a month prior.

JD Reinbott

My ‘Must Have’ On Any Dive Trip

Leftover Chinese food. I swear, people think I am insane, but I have this tradition of ordering sesame chicken, pork fried rice and some crab rangoons for dinner the night before a dive trip. Whatever is left over winds up being my boat snack. There’s something about coming up from a dive knowing I have those leftovers waiting for me that makes the day even better.

My Unforgettable Dive: The Florida Keys

Originally, I wanted to tell you about a 21-ft pelagic manta that swam laps around me in Isla del Caño, Costa Rica. I was working as a dive instructor and found myself wanting to abandon diving altogether; that manta reminded me of why I got certified in the first place, and it saved my dive career. I have an image of it tattooed on my forearm.

But, I think it’s important to share with you a more recent dive where I cried for very different reasons.

My most memorable dive was on Horseshoe Reef, located off of Key Largo, FL. In July 2023, we experienced record-breaking water temperatures in the Florida Keys, and, as a result, we witnessed a mass coral bleaching and mortality event.

Related Reading: Winged Wonders: Making the Most of Magical Manta Encounters

Horseshoe Reef in the Florida Keys boasts large stands of wild elkhorn coral – a critically endangered reef-building species.

JD Reinbott

Working within coral conservation, imagery of this event quickly filled up all of my social media channels and became part of my daily conversations. Some fellow coral nerds and I decided to go out and see this bleaching firsthand–not for enjoyment but to document the event and share it with the public who may not realize what exactly is happening to our reefs. We threw together a boat and headed out to the site. The ride out was anything but cheerful as we all knew what lay ahead of us.

Out of my 700+ logged dives, this was the only time I never wanted to back roll off of a boat.

JD Reinbott is a marine conservationist and self-professed coral nerd living and diving in the Florida Keys.

JD Reinbott

You could see the bleached coral from the surface. A stark white standing out amongst the murky green conditions we had that afternoon. What we saw on that hour-long dive was heartbreaking–natural elkhorn coral colonies bigger than my car that had existed for hundreds of years were fully white. No coloration at all. Other corals around them had already succumbed to the jacuzzi-like conditions and were quickly being overgrown with algae. You could hear my fellow divers trying to muffle the sound of their tears as we swam over what was once a coral reef but now a coral graveyard. What struck me the most was how quickly this shift happened. I had actually been diving out on Horseshoe a month prior, and it was the perfect example of a healthy reef.

Related Reading: Unprecedented Mass-Bleaching and Significant Coral Mortality in the Florida Keys

As conservationists, we have the duty of sharing the stories of past events and doing everything in our power to prevent them from happening again. On that dive, I was no longer telling stories past; I was living the devastation in real-time as I watched the ecosystem that I have dedicated my entire career to protecting slip through my very fingertips. That feeling is something I will never be able to forget and one that I hope to never feel again.