Dave Dipre: Steward of the Keys' Fish and Wildlife
Captain Dave Dipre, Marathon-based operational captain with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Division of Law Enforcement, oversees 32 patrol officers and operations from Key Largo to Key West.
Dipre's love of the Keys runs as deep as the 125-mile-long island chain's waters he's charged with protecting.
He even declined a recent job promotion to major - where he would be based in Gainesville, Florida, overseeing the agency's North Central region of 17 counties - after deciding he just couldn't leave the Keys.
"I'm more effective as captain in Monroe County," Dipre said.
The FWC, Florida's largest state law enforcement agency, protects natural resources including fish, wildlife and the environment. Officers with full police powers and statewide jurisdiction are cross-deputized to enforce federal marine fisheries and state and federal wildlife protection laws.
Dipre's biggest challenge includes the removal of derelict vessels scattered throughout Keys waters. Under his watch, about 3,200 have been removed - 1,600 through cooperative efforts with the Coast Guard and Monroe County, and the other half through private insurers or owners.
FWC violations commonly involve the poaching of protected wildlife, snagging of out-of-season spiny lobster or taking out-of-season, undersized or over-the-bag-limit fish.
Dipre grew up in tiny Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, and did Army stints in locations including Fort Riley, Kansas, and Frankfurt, Germany. After leaving the military, he remained in Frankfurt as the Officer's Club assistant manager.
Upon returning to the U.S., he attended college at the University of Utah. Subsequently he journeyed to the Keys to visit a girlfriend and in the early 1990s began his law enforcement career as a dispatcher.
Dipre met wife Kim, a now-retired FWC lieutenant, through the FWC. Daughter Sophia is a University of Florida student majoring in tourism, hospitality and event management.
To unwind, Dipre plays keyboard, piano and sings with his band, dubbed the 79th Street Band after a block party gig on 79th Street in Marathon.
Keys Traveler: When did you first come to the Florida Keys?
David Dipre: In November of 1993. I was 27 years old.
KT: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
DD: A balance maintained among the environment, economics and politics. I want to see Keys residents become stewards over their home, and see tourists have a sense of appreciation for what is here.
KT: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys' natural world?
DD: A couple of years into my career, I recognized the disrespect some individuals have toward the ocean's finite marine resources. I saw individuals poaching, polluting, and living their lives without any regard for marine life or the environment. This lack of regard was a strong motivational factor for me.
KT: How does that passion influence your work or profession?
DD: As law enforcement, we have an obligation to hold accountable those individuals who criminally offend the resources and the environment. It is our job to prevent and stop poaching; it is our job to prevent and stop polluting. We are obligated by our oath and the trust of the people around us.
KT: What are some of the affiliations and connections that help in your work to protect the local environment and unique lifestyle?
DD: Partnerships with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, Key West Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Highway Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol and Air and Marine Operations. However, our most important partners are the residents of the Keys.
KT: What keeps you energized, challenged and focused on your path?
DD: I am blessed to do what I do. My wife and daughter help to keep me focused. My band is another focal point. Even if it's only a few hours each week and a couple gigs per month, doing music keeps me energized.
KT: What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?
DD: Our work will never stop, so there is always opportunity to make a difference - even if it's just a small difference.
KT: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
DD: Be kind to one another. Be respectful to one another. A few mistakes and a few bad decisions, and your life could quickly be very different. Also when you're out on the water, if you see something, say something.
KT: What's your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?
DD: I have the greatest respect for the Conch Republic Marine Army, a very simple organization that just wants a cleaner, healthier Florida Keys. So, they volunteer time, put a little gas in their boats, go out and clean up ... everything! They may very well be the model of how we all should care about our Florida Keys.