How Divers Can Help with coral conservation

BY GENA PARSONS
Divers should stay informed about where stony coral tissue loss disease is present, use proper diving techniques and decontaminate dive gear between dives as well as before and after each dive excursion, especially when traveling from infected to uninfected locations or to and from other countries.

DECONTAMINATING DIVE GEAR
After a dive, immediately rinse your gear to remove debris and sediment. Use a bleach solution to sanitize nonsensitive gear that might get close to corals. Wash other gear in fresh water with an antibacterial soap. Use quaternary ammonium solutions to decontaminate dive gear after returning to shore. For the internal bladder of your buoyancy compensator (BC), pour approximately 1 pint (0.5 liters) of disinfecting solution into the mouthpiece of the BC’s exhaust hose while depressing the exhaust button, fully inflate the BC, and gently rotate it in all directions. Let it sit for 10 minutes, and then flush twice with fresh water.
Regulators, computers, gauges and other sensitive equipment should soak for 20 minutes in a solution of warm water and antibacterial dish soap or OdoBan disinfectant. Rinse in fresh water, and air dry. Thoroughly rinse underwater camera housings with fresh water, and press the buttons or levers to ensure no particulates become lodged. You can also thoroughly wipe sensitive gear with isopropyl alcohol. It is important to properly dispose of disinfectant solutions and rinse water in a sink, tub or shower. Never pour these liquids into the ocean or a storm drain.

REPORTING CORAL CONDITIONS
Divers can report coral conditions to the Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s public reporting tool for protecting southeastern Florida’s coral reefs. Reporting observations greatly enhances scientific knowledge of disease presence and helps to identify key areas for targeted research and interventions. The observations also help to identify particularly valuable and resilient reefs that may remain healthy. Training is available for those who wish to participate. For
more information, visit floridadep.gov/fco/coral/content/seafan.

RESTORING THE REEF
Restoration of the most resilient species of corals will be key to the future of reefs in Florida and around the world. Nonprofit organizations such as Mote Marine Laboratory and the Coral Restoration Foundation use volunteer divers to assist with maintaining coral nurseries and outplanting corals on the reefs. As stony coral tissue loss disease wanes, either naturally or due to human intervention, restoration efforts will ramp up to new levels.

RELIEVING STRESS
For restoration to be successful, we must relieve stress on the ecosystem — an effort that involves every resident of and visitor to Florida — by improving water quality, reducing runoff and keeping trash contained. Use reef-friendly sunscreen, and wear sun-protection clothing. Practice safe boating, and use mooring buoys to avoid anchor damage to corals. Opt for sustainable seafood to address overfishing.

EXPANDING YOUR EDUCATION
Coral reefs cover less than 1 percent of the Earth’s surface but are home to 25 percent of all marine fish species at some point in their life cycle. Coral diseases are increasing in frequency, intensity and geographic range. NOAA and other sources provide a plethora of online information about corals. For more information about stony coral tissue loss disease and how you can help, visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s website at: www.floridakeys.noaa.gov/coral-disease.

DIVE GEAR DECONTAMINATION GUIDELINES
  • Nonsensitive equipment — Soak for 10 minutes in a 10 percent bleach solution (1 quart of bleach in 2 gallons of water). Rinse with fresh water, and air dry.
  • Wetsuits, BCs, masks and fins — Soak for 10 minutes in one of the following: 0.5 percent RelyOn disinfectant cleaner (four 5-gram tablets in a gallon of water), 1 percent Virkon S disinfectant (1.3 ounces in 2 gallons of water), 6.6 percent Lysol disinfectant (1 quart in a gallon of water) or an equal  concentration of another quaternary ammonium disinfectant. Soak in fresh water for 10 minutes, and air dry.
  •  BC internal bladders — Pour 1 pint (0.5 liters) of disinfecting solution in the mouthpiece of the BC’s exhaust hose while depressing the exhaust button. Fully inflate the BC, and gently rotate it. After 10 minutes, flush twice with fresh water.
  • Regulators, computers, gauges and other sensitive scientific equipment  — Soak for 20 minutes in warm water with antibacterial dish soap or OdoBan disinfectant (5 ounces in a gallon of warm water). Rinse in fresh water, and air dry. Thoroughly wipe with isopropyl alcohol.
  • Underwater cameras — Thoroughly rinse with fresh water, and press buttons and levers to ensure no particulates become lodged. Thoroughly wipe the outside of the housing with isopropyl alcohol. This protocol does not endorse, recommend or favor any specific commercial product, process or service and is provided only to inform the public. Safety data sheets for chemicals and manufacturers’ user manuals provide critical information about the physical properties, reactivity, potential health hazards, storage, disposal and appropriate first-aid procedures for handling, applying and disposing of each product in a safe manner.
Gena Parsons is the communications and outreach manager at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

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