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Florida Keys Optimistic About Hurricane Recovery, Set to Reopen October 1st

By Becca Hurley | Published On September 29, 2017
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Florida Keys Optimistic About Hurricane Recovery, Set to Reopen October 1st

Despite the recent destruction caused by hurricanes Maria and Irma, there is some encouraging news coming out of the Florida Keys this week: Not only are the Keys set to officially reopen to visitors again Oct. 1, but their deeper wrecks appear to be in decent shape. Some of the shallow reefs suffered damage, however, and will need TLC.

Scuba Diving has been in touch with local operators over the past couple of weeks for updates on reef conditions, and reports coming in are largely positive. Rainbow Reef Dive Center sponsored a free dive Sept. 23 for all local Keys residents and first responders to see for themselves how the underwater world fared. Although there were areas with coral loss and more sand buildup than usual, Rainbow Reef manager John Buckley says they were surprised to see that some reefs were looking good.

Buckley reports that some famous sites, like the Christ of the Deep statue and French Reef, experienced little to no change. In other areas, he says, swim-throughs have opened up or new features have been exposed. On the Benwood wreck, an anchor was spotted off to the side in an area where the sand appeared to be dug out by the storms, revealing what will be a new highlight for this popular location. “It’s like exploring a new site,” says Buckley.

Benwood Shipwreck anchor

Anchor found at the Benwood

Courtesy Rainbow Reef Dive Center

Coral Restoration Foundation has been assessing and cleaning the coral "trees" in their Key Largo nurseries. They report that the nurseries are in very good shape, but they've been removing seagrass and debris. Some of these coral trees — one of CRF's and others from organizations like Mote Marine Lab — have been recovered from as far away as Jupiter.

Although positive about the conditions of the reefs and his shop in Key Largo, Buckley doesn’t make light of the hardships other parts of the Keys are facing, where serious damage has absolutely devastated businesses and even some of their employees’ homes. To those looking to help to, he encourages booking a dive charter, as it’s one of the best ways to support local businesses during this time of need.

“There are many places in the Keys open and ready for business. It’s not all negative down here,” Buckley says.

And if you can’t make the trip down to the Keys to dive with one of the many operators already running trips, he says, donate to a disaster relief fund of your choosing, because there are a lot of operators in the southern Keys who haven’t been as fortunate as Rainbow Reef, and they need your help.

Several other shops in Key Largo like Horizon Divers have told us that their dive boats were fine after the storms. Overall, local operators who haven’t resumed business as usual are optimistic about getting back on their feet as soon as possible to take guests out to the beautiful reefs and shipwrecks that surround the Florida Keys.

Florida International University told the Miami Herald that their Aquarius underwater lab off Key Largo remained “horizontal and intact” despite the 94,000-pound life support buoy being ripped from its mooring and the living quarters and outside “wet porch” sustaining damage. Supporters have already raised nearly $13,500 via a crowdfund for repairs.

Lab director Jim Fourqurean is just as optimistic as anyone in South Florida. “We know we’re going to get her working again,” he says. Like the rest of the Keys, “she’s battered, but she’ll be back.”

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is assessing the impact of Hurricane Irma to the underwater environment. These assessments are being coordinated with local and state governments, nongovernmental organizations and academic research and monitoring partners.

Not able to book a dive just yet? Donate to one of these verified causes to help get the Keys and affected areas back on their feet after hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Below is a list of shops in the Keys we’ve heard from that are open. If we’ve missed someone, please send us an email at [email protected] and we will be sure to update this list!

Horizon Divers

Ocean Divers

Rainbow Reef Dive Center