Diving Into Florida Ecology

In December of last year I took my first SCUBA diving class-- I remember how nervous I felt as I geared up, but after taking my first breathe under the water a new world came alive for me. I emerged from the 52 degree water freezing, but feeling more alive than I had ever felt in my life. I had my first dive at Blue Grotto.

I was terrified as I descended 35 feet to the platform, reminding myself to breathe in and out, as the air bubbles tickled my nose. When I hit the platform, something magical happened, a colorful fish swam right before my eyes. I was overwhelmed by the sudden calming silence of the underwater world. I still have one more dive to do, before I will finally be a certified open water diver. I know how lucky I am to live in a state with such amazing aquatic environments, but these ecosystems are in a fragile state of unrest.

When we speak about our carbon footprint, it is usually in regards to our degrading Ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere, but our oceans are also sponges for Carbon Dioxide. As the oceans absorb this excess CO2 , the overall pH of the environment is dropping. In any basic biology class, you will learn that every living organism must live within certain optimal pH and temperature level. The pH dropping in our oceans, means they are becoming more acidic. These conditions are dangerous for all oceanic life, but none more than our coral reefs. Coral reefs house and feed a cornucopia of sea life. So, as they disappear many species are finding themselves homeless, and without food. This process is called Ocean Acidification:

 
If you are willing to take the plunge, the Coral Reef Restoration foundation is located in Key Largo, and they are always looking for volunteers. Open Water divers can go to their coral nurseries, and help them grow new coral life.
 
Human impact doesn’t end with our carbon footprint, as our population in Florida grows we are polluting at even greater rates. We have one of the most unique ecosystems in the Continental United States-- the Florida Everglades. The average person might find this swamp environment intimidating, but Clyde Butcher sees the beauty in the swamplands.
 
 
Butcher is a wildlife conservation photographer who has devoted his life to raising awareness about the beauty in our environment. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he was presenting his work at the Leepa-Rattner museum in Tarpon Springs, and he is truly an inspiration. He hand develops his photographs and displays them at his gallery at The Big Cypress National Preserve. If you go to visit his gallery, you can also participate in a swamp walk-- where you will wade through the swamp and take in the beauty for yourself. 
 
Above: Photgraph by Clyde Butcher Cigar Orchid Pond, at Big Cypress Preserve
 
I encourage all of you to dive into our ecology, while you still can.