Day in the Life of a Dive Operator: Conch Republic Divers
Written by: Cortney Benson, Marine Debris Removal Stewardship Coordinator at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, in conjunction with Ashley Hudson, owner of Conch Republic Divers
Ashley Hudson and Dave Beevers purchased Conch Republic Divers a little over a year ago and have already made huge waves in the community! We had a conversation about what Ashley she has been up to in her first year:
What has you most excited about being a dive shop owner?
Being a literal VESSEL to provide something I LOVE so much to people every day and then hearing their excitement and love for the ocean. Making dreams happen, for not just the younger generation, but people who have had this on their wish list their whole life, and then making that a reality means truly more than I can put into words.
What has driven you to introduce a conservation focus into your business model at CRD?
It truly stems from being under the water and even the boat rides and seeing the trash left behind. The Turtle Hospital was one of my first places I went to visit when I moved here and it was eye opening to hear it, then to go below the surface and SEE it first hand (balloons, plastic bags, and the abundance of fishing line). Also when people visit from anywhere not here, and say “well I understand why you care because you live here, but I live in (fill in location here) and I’m sure I’m not impacting anything”. This phrase BLOWS my mind and makes me want to educate everyone, so when they go home they help spread that word.
In what ways do you hope to influence your divers and dive students to be stewards of the ocean?
I have said this for years… I am only one person but I pray my efforts have a ripple effect to spread my message further than I realize. I want what they learn here to go back to (fill in location here).
Can you tell us a little bit about the way you currently involve recreational divers in coral outplanting?
Currently, we run two trips a month (the 1st Thursday and 3rd Saturday) with iCare. We also have LOTS of group/clubs/shops that dive with us from all over the country. I have worked hard over the last year to promote coral out-planting and maintenance dives for these group trips to add one more level to their trip, increase awareness even more, and I encourage them to come back in a year to visit their baby corals they planted! This has just started to take flight and we have had three groups participate or have planned to participate. Dr. Smith (I.CARE Co-Founder) and her team have been so great to work with us to increase their reach.
How do you think involving them in marine debris removal will complement these efforts?
I feel it goes back to awareness. Yes, we all dive to look for pretty fish and turtles, colorful corals… when someone sees something that shouldn’t be there (i.e. cans, trash, fishing lines, rope etc.) do they just swim by or take a look at it, question should that really be there, can it be removed without disturbing or injuring a coral or sponge? Or even should a fishing line be cut so something doesn’t get caught? When someone dives with me, I have a little trash collection bag and a dive knife every time… sure it looks cool on the boat then they start seeing what I am seeing, hooks, weights, anchors, line, PLASTICS… and then yes, they see the pretty things, but they start seeing what shouldn’t have been there too.
You participated in the 2023 I.CARE Trash Derby. Can you share your thoughts on the importance of the event, the turnout or anything that particularly stood out to you?
I loved seeing how many people/businesses participated! And it was fun to open it up to our divers to come participate which a lot of our people DID!!! I think what stood out the most was, our team did one dive on one of the wrecks… we collected over 7500’ of monofilament (aka fishing line) and our WHOLE team wasn’t further than 50’ from the mooring line we went down on and we didn’t even make a dent in what was still on the wreck… there was just SO MUCH and there is STILL SO MUCH! Also seeing that ALL together we collected over 14,000 pounds of marine debris in 1.5 days was GREAT but also shocking that we got that much in such a short time, which only shows how much was really out there. Ultimately, we all just have to do better.
What type of marine debris did your team focus on and why?
At our shop, we do a lot of deep dives, so that was our focus, and since we are in the Islamorada area, we focused on popular fishing sites where we collected a lot of anchors and line that were just cut. Then we did one dive just focusing on monofilament which later we wished we would have made that the focus.
Did you win any awards?
We won for MOST MONOFILAMENT!!! Which again was so crazy because we collected it ALL on one dive!!!
Do you plan to participate in the 2024 event?
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or Conch Republic Divers?
Conch Republic Divers is applying for permits to run these trash clean ups on a more regular basis in 2024! If you would like to participate, follow us on Facebook or Instagram to be part of these trips! @conchrepublicdivers