Responsible Practices Enrich Underwater Adventures

Regardless of experience level, divers in the Florida Keys should exercise caution and awareness of their surroundings, and respect the underwater environment during their immersion in it. This also applies to snorkelers and even participants in SNUBA, sometimes described as a blend of snorkeling and scuba.

Every day, through continued education and shared information, Keys dive operators help enforce guidelines ranging from boat etiquette to strict “no touch” rules for everyone visiting the coral reef within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Many dive shops stick to a ratio of one guide per six divers when they’re in the water, ensuring that divers employ proper reef etiquette. This procedure is especially important with beginning divers such as open-water students, or newly certified divers just learning to control buoyancy underwater. 

Following are some common etiquette procedures for divers:

• Avoid wearing gloves except when diving on shipwrecks.

• Perform weight checks on the surface.

• Trim weights correctly during the dive, taking weight off during the dive or redistributing the weight on the belt.

• If you’re a new diver, make sure you understand your dive operator’s demonstration of the proper neutrally buoyant position, how far to keep off the reef, and the correct swimming kick style.

• DO NOT touch coral; understand that even lightly brushing coral can be damaging.

• NEVER stand or rest on corals. If you need to rest, lie on your back or float in a sitting position.  

• Choose sunscreen that doesn’t contain chemicals — including oxybenzone and octinoxate — that are harmful to reef organisms.

• If you’re on a private boat, DO NOT anchor on the reef.

• If you’re on a private boat, make sure everyone aboard is aware of dive flag etiquette and adheres to safety practices — including slowing down in areas where another vessel is displaying a dive flag, paying close attention to currents, staying close to the boat and having someone who knows how to operate it remain onboard at all times.

• When booking a dive or snorkel excursion, look for a professional Blue Star operator. The Blue Star program was established by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to recognize operators who are committed to promoting responsible and sustainable diving and snorkeling practices.

When divers are educated in safety procedures and reef responsibility, everyone involved benefits — as does the Florida Keys’ treasured underwater environment.

For more information on diving in the Keys, visit