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I’ll do almost anything to meet new scuba friends.

People sitting at table
November 14, 2021

It’s the season for sharing what we’re thankful for so let me tell you about that time I slept in the campground behind Publix.

I’d heard about this annual event in Key Largo called “REEF Fest” five years ago when we were still living in Ft Lauderdale. Something to do with fish and diving. I’d just gotten my US resident / green card and was working part time at a dive shop. It sounded cool and I had the time, so I signed up.

Wanting to keep costs low, I borrowed a friend’s pup tent and headed for the only campground that had a spot – that one behind the grocery store.

I had some adventures there.

Raccoons trying to climb into my hammock.

Monsoon-like rains causing a mini river under my tent.

Cooking a beautiful steak over the fire and then realizing I forgot to bring a knife to eat it with.

Great fun that took me back to my younger days of hiking and camping in the mountains back home in South Africa.

Men in a tent
My mate Dennis and I in the early 1980s

Anyway, back to my story.

REEF is an international organization that gets divers, snorkelers, and other ocean-loving people actively involved in marine conservation. Most famously, their Volunteer Fish Survey Project trains volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to identify and count fish, then report information for scientists to study.

Maybe you’re thinking about that Dr Seuss book. But there’s a little more to it than “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”

Over 16,000 volunteers have completed surveys so far. Their data has helped scientists sound the alarm about invasive lionfish and protect important grouper spawning habitat. Some volunteer fish counters can identify 100s of species by sight. Very cool.

Celia with her fish survey card

REEF Fest weekends include special dive trips each morning. And every afternoon there are really interesting talks by scientists.

In between the diving and the talks, there are Happy Hour-type mixers. Lots of people know each other from past events or from going on special REEF-organized dive trips in different parts of the world.

Now it probably doesn’t surprise you that I know a lot of scuba divers from lots of trips around the world.

But I was brand new here and I didn’t know anybody.

I was standing around by myself during a social event Bayside Grill, feeling alone (and still a little damp), when I saw an empty spot at a picnic table where Celia was sitting. She and I started talking about her REEF adventures and diving stories and hung out together for the rest of the days at REEF Fest.

 

People sitting at table
Finally a seat at the table!

We kept in touch and Celia was one of the first people we told when we launched the business. And she was so excited for us!

At the 2018 REEF Fest, Lucky Fish Scuba had been in operation for about 6 months. We were so proud to have Celia and her friend Al go out with us for a couple of dives.

The following year we made more new friends.

Last year there was no in-person REEF Fest because of COVID and we honestly didn’t know how things were changing and what people we’d see back here again.

But this year REEF Fest was back and there were happy hugs all around when we reunited with Celia in the parking lot.

We sat together again at the lectures, shared another table at the dinner and — most fun of all – got to go diving together!

On Sunday we took advantage of great conditions for a long lazy ‘brunch’ dive …. Followed by actual brunch at the Buzzards Roost.

Want to see the video? Click here.

video screenshot woman diver

 

​When you learn to scuba dive they tell you that one of the best things about it is meeting cool people who love the water. People you don’t mind sleeping in a soggy tent for. People you look forward to diving with, year after year. And it’s actually true!


P.S.  More amazing REEF people — Marta, Paul, Fred and Summer — just staked out an official new Fish ID spot when diving at a nice fishy spot I brought them to. They actually named it Lucky Fish Ledge (awww!). We’re going have more about Lucky Fish Ledge up on the blog soon!

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