Iconic Reef Guardians

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Iconic Reef Guardians

The Iconic Reef Guardians program offers a unique opportunity for divers as well as snorkelers to get involved in coral reef restoration in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and help to preserve these delicate ecosystems for current and future generations by working alongside a wide array of committed partners. In support of Mission: Iconic Reefs, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary oversee the Iconic Reef Guardians Program. 

Iconic Reef Guardians (IRG) 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, snorkeling, and fishing practices to reduce the impact of these activities on ecosystems in the Florida Keys. Blue Star operators take the extra step to educate you to be better environmental stewards and to interact responsibly with 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 ecosystem firsthand. 

In doing so, IRG participants are empowered to be knowledgeable and supportive of coral restoration efforts and subsequently become stewards of Mission: Iconic Reef sites.

Photo: Reef Renewal

Program Opportunities

There are currently four program opportunities within the Iconic Reef Guardians Program 

Passive Coral Nursery Experience Have you ever wondered where we raise baby corals for reef restoration? Jump into the turquoise blue waters of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and take a tour of some of the largest and most innovative coral nurseries in the world.

Active Coral Nursery Experience How do we care for baby corals? Participate in the Active Coral Nursery Experience and lend a helping hand doing nursery maintenance, like cleaning coral trees, that helps baby corals have a safe place to grow. 

Reef Experience – Once baby corals are placed at Mission: Iconic Reef sites they need support to grow and thrive. Join an IRG Reef Experience to help provide regular care for corals as well as reporting to support the long-term success of restoration.

Coral Health Experience – When high water temperatures hit, our corals can be at risk! Dive into an Iconic Reef Guardians Coral Health Experience to help monitor bleaching events and submit vital data on the health of our reefs.

Photo: John Reinbott

June 2024

Passive Coral Nursery Experience with Florida Keys Dive Center
Join Florida Keys Dive Center for an Iconic Reef Guardians trip to the Coral Restoration Foundation’s Tavernier Coral Nursery. During this half-day morning trip, you will be led on a tour of the coral nursery by a trained Iconic Reef Guardians dive professional and passively observe these innovative underwater lo , ...
Passive Coral Nursery Experience with Quiescence Diving Services
Join Quiescence Diving Services for an Iconic Reef Guardians trip to the Coral Restoration Foundation’s Tavernier Coral Nursery. During this half-day morning trip, you will be led on a tour of the coral nursery by a trained Iconic Reef Guardians dive professional and passively observe these innovative underwater , ...
Passive Coral Nursery Experience with Island Ventures
Join Island Ventures for an Iconic Reef Guardians trip to the Coral Restoration Foundation’s Tavernier Coral Nursery. During this half-day morning trip, you will be led on a tour of the coral nursery by a trained Iconic Reef Guardians dive professional and passively observe these innovative underwater locations that pl , ...

Mission: Iconic Reefs

Mission: Iconic Reefs is a large-scale, NOAA-led coral restoration initiative within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to restore seven ecologically and culturally significant coral reefs to self-sustaining levels by 2040. Launched in late 2019, the unprecedented effort is a collaboration with world-renowned scientists, local restoration partners, academia, industry, and federal and state agencies.

The coral reefs of the Florida Keys are a national and international treasure of biodiversity, flourishing with glowing life. Threatened by hurricanes, heat-induced bleaching, cold snaps, disease, marine debris, invasive and nuisance species, and increased human use, the degradation of these reefs has spurred an unprecedented, bold undertaking to restore them: Mission: Iconic Reefs. 

This innovative undertaking is a collaboration between NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, the State of Florida, Coral Restoration Foundation, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, The Florida Aquarium, The Nature Conservancy, Reef Renewal and University of Florida. 

Together, the partners will restore nearly three million square feet of the Florida Reef Tract, about the size of 52 football fields, at seven key reef sites. It is one of the largest strategies ever proposed in the field of coral restoration. 

The 7 iconic reef sites within Florida Key National Marine Sanctuary


All recreational participants within the Iconic Reef Guardians Program must complete an online course via the Iconic Reef Guardians Learning Platform. This training is housed via the Tovuti Learning Management System and allows participants to complete their training either via computer or on their phone. So, whether you want to do your training at home before your trip down to the Keys or while you are waiting for your flight at the airport, we have got you covered!  

Upon booking an Iconic Reef Guardians trip, the corresponding Blue Star Diving Operator will reach out to participants with further instructions on which training course(s) to complete before your dives and pass along any additional information. 

Photo: Jay Clue

Meet the Coral Restoration Practitioners

Coral Restoration Foundation – The Coral Restoration Foundation works to actively restore coral reefs on a massive scale, educate others on the importance of our oceans, and use science to further coral research and coral reef monitoring techniques. Learn more here. 


Mote Marine LaboratoryMote Marine Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit marine research institution comprising world-class marine scientists committed to the belief that the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans begins with research and education. Learn more here 


Reef Renewal USA – Reef Renewal, USA, Inc. (RRUSA) is a global model that inspires volunteers to restore and protect coral reefs systems for future generations by using education, innovation, and science through grassroots community involvement. Learn more here 

Photo: John Reinbott

Meet the Blue Star Dive Operators

Conch Republic Divers – Conch Republic Divers is a dive center in Tavernier, Florida, offering certifications through SDI, TDI, NAUI, PADI, and SSI. They run daily trips to reefs and wrecks, including trips for spearfishing and lobstering. Private guides are available upon request. Learn more here.

Florida Keys Dive Center – Florida Keys Dive Center, AKA “Flakeys”, is a full service PADI scuba diving center in the Florida Keys, offering daily guided scuba diving trips, scuba instruction, spear fishing and private dive charters. Learn more here.

Island Ventures – Island Ventures a boutique dive and snorkel shop located in the center of Key Largo that specializes in diving the way their clients want to dive. They have no set schedule but select dive sites with the group on the day taking weather conditions and divers wishes into consideration. Their custom built dive boats offer unrivaled customer experience for up to 10 divers. Fully focused on customer service and conservation of our amazing ocean this shop offers the highest levels of service to all their customers. Learn more here.

Pirates Cove Watersports – Pirates Cove Watersports is a one stop shop in Key Largo for PADI scuba diving, snorkeling, jet skiing, eco tours, fishing, and more. They offer daily trips to the reefs of Key Largo and Tavernier, as well as plenty of fun on the bayside. Whether you are looking to advance your PADI certifications, take a relaxing cruise at sunset, catch some fish for dinner, or paddle around the bay, the Pirates have you covered. Learn more here.

Quiescence Diving Services – Quiescence caters their private charters to the needs of their customers, focusing trip locations on the desire of their customer instead of a pre-set schedule. With forty years of scuba diving experience, this shop has found their own signature sites off the beaten trail, which offer new and exciting experiences to new and seasoned divers alike. Learn more here.

Rainbow Reef Dive Center – Rainbow Reef Dive Center and its affiliated non-for-profit, the Ocean Conservation Foundation, are dedicated to restoring coral reef ecosystems. RRDC and OCF’s primary goal is to utilize their team of skilled dive professionals to accelerate coral restoration efforts. Through collaboration and cross-training with other organizations, RRDC and OCF assist in coral nurseries and out-planting corals, aiming to foster strategic partnerships across the Florida Keys to ensure a comprehensive approach to reef health. Learn more here.

Photo: Mote Marine Lab

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