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Key Dives Hosts an Epic Day of Conservation with a Trash Trek and Turtle Release

By Tiffany Duong | Updated On September 5, 2020
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Key Dives Hosts an Epic Day of Conservation with a Trash Trek and Turtle Release

Trash Trek Boat

The Trash Trek helped clean up reefs that may never have been cleaned before.

Tiffany Duong/Ocean Rebels

Key Dives is no stranger to conservation.

In the two years since they’ve been running clean-up dives, the small but mighty Islamorada dive shop has surpassed 11,000 pounds of trash collected off Florida Keys reefs. Now, they’ve stepped it up to another level with a back-to-back Dive Against Debris “Trash Trek” and a turtle release that took place on August 31, 2020.

On this epic day dedicated entirely to stewardship, the boat was stacked with a healthy mix of cleanup dive regulars and visitors. Key Dives’ marine conservation coordinator Cortney Benson reviewed the major points ‒ don’t remove anything with coral growing on it, give all trash a little shake to give marine life a chance to find a new home, leave artifacts and be safe.

During the all-day event, divers targeted “neglected reefs” ‒ deep reefs never before cleaned ‒ in an attempt to complete a blitz-style debris removal and make a big impact.

It worked.

Scuba Divers Collect 519 Pounds of Trash

Divers collected 519 pounds of debris from Three Peaks Reef. The majority were anchors and ghost lines.

Tiffany Duong/Ocean Rebels

The Key Dives team pulled up 519 pounds of line, traps, anchors and debris from Three Peaks Reef in Islamorada, bringing Key Dives’ all-time total to 11,439 pounds removed from local waters.

“It feels good that we’ve done so much, just us, just this shop, just you guys and a few lift bags,” Benson said.

John Enz, a marine science professor at the University of Jacksonville, agreed.

“I’ve been coming for several years, and when I heard about this, I was all in,” he said. “I’ve never heard of another dive shop doing this. This is awesome because it’s local people joining to protect local reefs, which boosts the local economy.”

Scuba Diver Doug Hoffman Collects Trash Underwater

Diver Doug Hoffman collected rope and trap pieces off the seafloor.

Tiffany Duong/Ocean Rebels

Cleanup regulars Dan and Marilyn Steadman are the masterminds behind the Trash Trek, proposing the event to Key Dives owner Mike Goldberg as a way to clean up reefs they’d heard were covered in debris.

“My grandson Sage is six, and I want him to experience this,” said Marilyn. “I need the reef to be growing and thriving for him.” The decision to host the Trash Trek was a “no brainer” for Goldberg.

Dive Against Debris Trash Trek

The Dive Against Debris Trash Trek was a success, pulling in 519 pounds of diverted debris.

Tiffany Duong/Ocean Rebels

“I believe there is a level of fulfillment when diving with a purpose that is greater in many respects than just diving for fun,” he said. “What Key Dives did today is give divers a channel to fulfill that need. This, of course, works with our main overall goal which is to improve our ocean and coral reefs.” Shortly after the boat pulled into the dock with debris for sorting and weighing, a turtle ambulance arrived with the guest of honor: Rocky, a juvenile green sea turtle.

The Key Dives team first met Rocky two weeks prior during a coral restoration dive, when he’d looked lethargic. Turns out, he had intestinal blockages from eating indigestible matter. Key Dives rescued Rocky, and he recuperated at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

Sea Turtle Released

Rocky, a juvenile green sea turtle estimated to be around 7-years old, was released back to his home reef, Rocky Top.

Tiffany Duong/Ocean Rebels

His release timed perfectly with the Trash Trek, and Goldberg, Benson and the entire Key Dives team were elated to escort Rocky back to his ocean home. Dive instructor Justin Benson of Key Dives, who helped orchestrate Rocky’s rescue, said, “It’s really amazing to be able to put him back. Too often, they’re too hurt and can’t go back.”

As he finished speaking, a pod of dolphins surfed the waves behind the Key Dives’ boat. The instructor added, “Dolphins -- how perfect. It’s as if mother nature is thanking us. That’s what it feels like.”

Back at the shop, a content Goldberg summed it up: “Today was the first time in Key Dives history we had a Dive Against Debris Trash Trek, an all-day excursion out to sites we have never been to in order to remove debris. We removed over 500 pounds of debris, followed by the release of a turtle we rescued a couple of weeks back, capped off by dancing dolphins at the stern. I can’t imagine a better day.”