Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary provides numerous opportunities for locals and tourists to experience, learn about, and appreciate the natural and cultural resources that lie within the sanctuary’s 2,900 nautical square miles of protected area. Among these activities are guided SCUBA diving tours and fishing excursions. Given the sheer number of tour operators based in the Keys, travelers may not consider the differences between them beyond price. However, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary encourages individuals to look before they book and choose recognized Blue Star Operators, operators who are “committed to promoting responsible and sustainable diving, snorkeling, and fishing practices to reduce the impact of these activities on ecosystems in the Florida Keys.”
The Blue Star program is a voluntary one in which operators undergo training and deliver education to customers in an effort to create better environmental stewards and encourage responsible interactions with natural resources throughout the sanctuary. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary currently offers two recognition programs — one for dive and snorkel operators and one for fishing guides. Travelers who book certified Blue Star dive operators can be sure their guides are dedicated to marine conservation, while Blue Star fishing guides are dedicated to education and responsible fishing practices. In fact, Blue Star dive program participants are primary partners in the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys program led by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
So how do you know if you’re booking with a recognized Blue Star Operator? You can always call a potential operator in the Keys before booking or you can look for the official Blue Star seals; dive operators are recognized with a dive flag icon with a blue sea star and waves overlayed, and Blue Star fishing guides are recognized with a blue sea star overlayed with waves and a fishing hook. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary offers a full list of certified operators for both programs — in addition to information on how to get Blue Star recognized — here.