Dive In and Become An Iconic Reef Guardian

Photo credit: Jay Clue

Written by: JD Reinbott, Iconic Reef Guardians Stewardship Coordinator at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

Did you know that April is Citizen Science Month?  

What is citizen (or community) science? In short… community science is science for everyone! The best part is that ANYONE can be a community scientist, regardless of where they’re from. It doesn’t matter how old someone is or what their background is… it just takes some time, curiosity, and a sense of wonder.  

Photo credit: Jay Clue

Community science is when the public voluntarily helps conduct research and or fieldwork (no science degree or previous experience required!) Community scientists may help design experiments, collect data, analyze results, solve problems, or a combination of the above. The work accomplished by community scientists can help professional scientists, conservationists, and resource managers answer questions and solve important problems. The work also helps participants build meaningful connections to science itself.  

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation supports community science projects across the National Marine Sanctuary System, a network of nationally significant protected areas in our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes. This system is comprised of 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments and spans more than 620,000 square miles of American waters.  

Let’s take a moment to focus on one of the Foundation’s conservation programs!  

Whether you are a full time resident or a visitor to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary you can become a community scientist with the Iconic Reef Guardians (IRG) Program! This program offers a unique opportunity for both divers and snorkelers to get involved in coral restoration and subsequently help preserve these delicate ecosystems for current and future generations.  

Photo credit: Jay Clue

Iconic Reef Guardians works directly with Blue Star Diving Operators, a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary program, that recognizes tour operators who are committed to promoting responsible and sustainable diving and snorkeling practices to reduce the impact of these activities on ecosystems in the Florida Keys. Blue Star operators take the extra step to educate their clients to be better environmental stewards and to interact responsibly with the natural resources in the Keys. These operators are trained to lead divers and snorkelers through experiences that teach them about coral reefs, coral reef restoration, and allow them to experience the sensitivity and resilience of the coral reef ecosystems firsthand.  

As of April 2024, the dive operators participating in the Iconic Reef Guardians program are Conch Republic Divers, Florida Keys Dive Center, Island Ventures, Pirates Cove Watersports, Quiescence Diving Services, and Rainbow Reef Dive Center.  

By participating in the program, IRG participants are empowered to be knowledgeable and supportive of coral restoration efforts and subsequently become stewards of Mission: Iconic Reefs sites.  

Photo credit: Jay Clue

As a community scientist with the Iconic Reef Guardians Program, you can partake in four different experiences. In the Passive Coral Nursery Experience, IRG participants dive under the turquoise blue waters of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and see where baby corals are raised for reef restoration, in some of the largest and most innovative coral nurseries in the world. In the Active Coral Nursery Experience, participants lend a helping hand caring for these baby corals, doing essential tasks like cleaning coral trees that give them a safe place to grow. In the IRG Reef Experience, divers will visit Mission: Iconic Reefs sites to check in on outplanted corals and report on restoration activities. Finally, IRG Bleaching Experience participants help monitor coral bleaching events that may occur when high water temperatures hit (as they did in summer 2023 in the Florida Keys) and submit vital data on the health of coral reefs.  

Each of these opportunities allows you to immerse yourself in the world of coral restoration whether it be by touring through an underwater coral nursery or helping monitor coral outplants out on the reef. The work you do as an IRG community scientist helps support the long-term goals of Mission: Iconic Reefs! 

Ready to dive in? Head on over to the Iconic Reef Guardians webpage to sign up for your trip today!  

Photo credit: Jay Clue