National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Receives $134,928 from NOAA to Clean Up Debris in Florida Keys

NOAA Marine Debris Program awards $134,928 in new funding for successful Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys partnership to tackle underwater marine debris

Silver Spring, Md. – August 26, 2020 – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (“Foundation”) and its local chapter in the Florida Keys will receive funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program to remove underwater marine debris in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  

With this support, the Foundation plans to expand its successful work on the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys program.  

Established in May 2018, Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys is a collaboration with Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Blue Star dive operators to remove underwater marine debris and educate the public about marine debris prevention. In its first year funding the program, the Foundation supported 49 cleanup trips for Blue Star dive operators. Nearly 450 recreational divers and 158 professional divers spent 897 hours underwater removing 14,693 pounds of debris, 78 intact lost and damaged fishing and lobster traps, hundreds of pieces of trap debris, and 16,369 feet of line.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program offers an annual nationwide competitive funding opportunity to support projects that focus on community-based marine debris removal. Marine debris, including lost or abandoned fishing gear and trash, entangles stony corals, sea fans, sponges, sea turtles, manatees, and other marine life. It also degrades seagrass, hard bottom, coral reef, and mangrove habitats, and detracts from the natural beauty of the islands.

“Marine debris is a significant challenge facing our ocean and marine wildlife, and it is an ongoing challenge in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary,” said Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  “NOAA is a great partner in the effort to combat marine debris – working with communities to help sustain a healthy ocean.”

The Florida Keys chapter of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation plays a major role in administering the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys program. The chapter works directly with the Blue Star dive operators who conduct cleanups, actively recruits new participants from professional dive shops, and engages at the local level to build support and awareness about removing debris for healthy reefs and a healthy Keys economy.

“Blue Star dive operators know the importance of Florida Keys reefs and are actively working with us to protect and restore it,” said Sara Rankin, chapter director of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  “We are privileged to work with NOAA to expand the Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys underwater marine debris cleanup program.”

The work accomplished with this grant funding will complement NOAA’s Florida Keys Restoration Blueprint. The blueprint calls for reducing the adverse impacts to key marine species and habitats caused by threats like underwater marine debris.  The Foundation will also strive to overlap underwater debris removals with other coral restoration efforts as part of Mission: Iconic Reefs. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects the nation’s only continental barrier reef and contributes more than $4 billion to the local and state economies.  A healthy sanctuary is vital to the quality of life of residents.

“Community involvement is critical to address issues like marine debris that threaten the Florida Keys economy and unique way of life. The sanctuary values its partnership with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Blue Star operators in efforts to promote stewardship of this special place,” said Sarah Fangman, Superintendent of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The Blue Star program, established in 2009 by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is a voluntary recognition program for dive, snorkel, and fishing charters seeking to reduce damage to coral reef ecosystems by emphasizing proper etiquette for responsible diving, snorkeling, and fishing, educating customers, and engaging them as partners in coral reef conservation. To support engagement in Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys, the Foundation has provided funding to several recognized Blue Star dive operators throughout the Keys, including DiveN2Life, The Dive Shop at Ocean Reef, Forever Young Charter Company, Horizon Divers, Island Ventures, Key Dives, Pirates Cove Watersports, and Rainbow Reef Dive Center. Blue Star operators may apply to participate in this year’s program starting in September.

To view the full NOAA Marine Debris Program announcement, click here.

Contact: Chip Weiskotten

Director of Strategic Communications

301.608.3040 x 305


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve America’s maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develops strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at