Diving Business in FLA Keys did not escape oil's impacts

The Florida Keys are home to the world’s third longest barrier reef. Each year, more than a million people travel there to go diving and snorkeling, making it one of the most popular dive spots on Earth—and one you can easily drive to. Had the Deepwater Horizon spill sullied the region, it would have hit both an environmental wonder, and an economic engine for the state and region.

As the oil spilled in the Gulf and Keys residents braced themselves for possible impact, Bob Holston, director of operations for Dive Key West, describes the atmosphere of the region as “almost like a hurricane—you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” He and other dive operators prepared to help if duty called.

Fortunately, the region escaped the oil – but not all of its impacts. Holston said he feels the media overreacted when it came to predicting whether the Deepwater Horizon spill would sweep south – and local dive businesses suffered as a result.  “From the very day it happened, there were reports that the oil would be in the Florida Keys that next weekend,” he says.

That didn’t happen, but nonetheless tourists nervously canceled their vacations and dive adventures. Little inaccuracies hurt business: For example, when mysterious tar balls were found on a Keys beach, it was reported, speculatively—wrongly (as it turned out)—that the Deepwater Horizon spill had reached Florida. Such mistakes added to the already tough economic times, and though Holston says Dive Key West weathered them fine, other dive operators struggled more.

Holston did, however, appreciate the reliable reports and public meetings provided by the local tourist council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. And the close-call made them more prepared for potential oil disasters in the future.

“We learned a lot from [the summer]” Holston adds, while acknowledging that no one was quite ready for a spill of Deepwater Horizon’s size. “It was like a training exercise—it allowed our resource managers to fine-tune what would take place if something happened closer.”

Read more about what Holston and others took away from Deepwater Horizon spill in “The Florida Keys Response to the Gulf Oil Disaster,” the NRDC’s report.