“A Reef Encounter” Part 1
By: Stephanie Benney
Everyone has fears in life. Some are more realistic than others. When we are children, we are afraid of the dark and the boogie man. As we get older, we become afraid of heights, afraid of death, afraid of not making enough money to pay the bills. The list goes on and on.
For my Christmas present this year, my boyfriend surprised me with a Key West, Florida vacation, which we took last week(of course it came and went WAY too fast). As much as I love the smell of the beach, feel of the sand on my feet and sway of the palms in the wind, I am petrified of what lies beneath the beautiful hues of azure, turquoise and aqua. It is unimaginable to me that an entire world exists underwater.
After much consideration and painful deliberation, I decided it was time for me to confront my fear of the unknown in the ocean; I agreed to go snorkeling with Frank. The evening before my snorkeling excursion was filled with nightmares of shark attacks, being left by the boat(courtesy of the movie, “Open Water”) and feeling “things” of the unknown on my skin. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep that night.
My stomach was in my throat as we boarded the catamaran that would take us miles out to view North America’s only living coral reef barrier system. “I can’t do this!” kept looping through my mind as the instructor went over gear instructions and snorkeling 101.
For a moment, I was chickening out; I was going to sit on the boat while everyone else explored. I knew if I didn’t do this, I would not only regret it, I would be disappointed in myself; I chose to do the difficult thing. I suited up and set out for adventure. Plus, I knew I would at least gain an article out of it.
Once I was able to relax in the water, I was able to view the sea life in their natural habitat. I surveyed the coral reef and clown fish as well as other beautiful creatures.
The Florida Keys Reef system is North America’s only living barrier reef system. It spans 221 miles from Key Biscayne to the Dry Tortugas. It is protected as an underwater state park (the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park), which is why we were not allowed to touch any part of the reef system. It is also the first underwater park in the United States.
People are mainly attracted to the underwater state park because of the coral reef system. However, there is also a separate, unique attraction. “Christ of the Abyss” is an 8 1/2 foot, 4,000 pound bronze sculpture of Jesus Christ, which stands in 25 feet of water. It is located near Dry Rocks, which is roughly 6 miles east-northeast of the Key Largo Cut. So, all of that praying I was doing as I was snorkeling was to a Christ closer than I thought.
While I only lasted roughly 7 minutes in the water, I experienced a completely different kind of wildlife interaction. It may not be an activity I care to partake in again, but I literally looked my fear in the eye and it sparked an interest in learning more about the only living reef barrier system in my great country.
As I furthered my research, I learned of something fantastic being done down in the bowels of the ocean waters in the Florida Keys. But…..I can’t tell you now. It would spoil next week’s Part 2 of “A Reef Encounter”!
Stephanie Benney is a “Sustainable Visionary” and also the new Pittsburgh Representative for Fuzed Marketing, where she helps companies increase their brand presence. email@example.com