The Story of Reef Relief's Founding by DeeVon and Craig Quirolo
Living on the island of Key West is all about the ocean around you. Craig Quirolo, a veteran sailor and photographer, sailed into Key West harbor aboard a schooner from San Francisco in the early '70's. About the same time, I traveled down the Overseas Highway to Key West from South Miami. It was a wonderful time when the offshore coral reef was beautiful and alive and locals declared the waters "gin clear." We'd catch conch and lobster and fish for dinner with little effort, then dance all night to live music. Few mainstream types were willing to travel down that two lane highway, so Key West was off the beaten path, a magical place for artists, sailors and travelers, accommodated by the live and let live Conchs who were born and raised on the island. It was just the antidote to my years of study, including a stint in law school.
Craig and I met a few years later. He taught me to sail aboard his 30' wooden Alden sloop, Stormy Weather. We explored the Caribbean and made a few passages through the Panama Canal on our way to northern California, where he taught sailing and I worked for Lucasfilm on exciting films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones. But somehow, we always returned to Key West where Craig would take visitors out to snorkel the reefs or watch the famous Key West sunsets. By 1976, together with Captain Finbar Gittlemen, we launched Tropical Trips Boat Charters-offering the first fleet of reef snorkeling boats on the island.
Damage to the Reef in the Florida Keys Increases
Tourism began to thrive in the Keys with creation of the Tourist Development Council and by 1987 Craig and the growing fleet of charterboat captains began noticing anchor damage on the reef. After dockside discussions, we joined with other friends in Key West, including Bruce & Carolyn Etshman, Jerry & Carolyn Cash, Bill Kuypers, Lee Hallman and others to find a way to install reef mooring buoys to prevent the anchor damage caused by our visits to the reef. Craig and Bruce spent a day with John Halas at the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary inspecting their system of reef mooring buoys and a plan was hatched to install buoys at Key West reefs. The result was the founding of a small nonprofit organization called Reef Relief that consumed the next 23 years of our lives.
Wilhelmina Harvey was the county mayor in the Florida Keys; Craig approached her in 1987 and she agreed to lead the effort to designate funds to install the first 30 reef mooring buoys at Key West area coral reefs. Picture is (l to r) Wilhelmina Harvey, Reef Relief Educator Michael Blades, Craig and DeeVon Quirolo, holding Honorary Conch Certificates from the mayor.
Launching Reef Relief was an an incredible experience that took us all over the Caribbean and to the halls of Congress. But mostly we spent a lot of time at Key West reefs-paying attention to what it was telling us so we could design and implement strategies to protect it locally. What began as an effort to install mooring buoys grew to become a global membership organization that worked on a local, regional and international level. Craig designed and implemented marine projects such as installing reef mooring buoys, organizing reef clean-ups, creating coral nurseries, surveying coral reefs over time, working with scientists to study the causes of reef decline, and producing reports of his findings. I directed environmental education programs for local stakeholders utilizing grassroots strategies from our Key West headquarters and environmental center. We enlisted great board members, a scientific advisory board and a local citizen board along with literally thousands of volunteers, interns, college students, and civic leaders who all pitched in to save the reefs. Our first employee was the brilliant Athena Cronk who has been a lifelong friend. Michael Blades and Joel Biddle were part of the team for over 10 years, each giving their all to educate and sustain Reef Relief's myriad grassroots efforts. Many others contributed in many ways, including businesses and small foundations that supplemented the contributions of members and donors.
We applied the lessons learned to help others utilize similar strategies around the globe. Our website became an excellent portal for environmental education on coral reefs. We were recognized with many awards, including a Point of Light presented to Craig personally from President George H. Bush on Earth Day 1990, and local awards wherever we worked---Negril, Jamaica; Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras; Cuba; Puerto Rico; Mexico; Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas; and St. Kitts. But most of all, we were fortunate to enlist the support and appreciation of those in the Florida Keys, our home for many years.
President Bush Awards Reef Relief Founder Craig Quirolo Point of Light Award
Craig Quirolo receives a personal Point of Light Award from President H.W. Bush at dawn on Earth Day, 1990.
REEF RELIEF efforts have been recognized with numerous local, state and national awards, including the 1996 President's Council on Sustainable Development, Take Pride in America, Take Pride in Florida, 1994, 1995, 1996 Renew America, 1995 Governor's Environmental Achievement Award, 1991 Robert Rodales and Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine's First Environmental Achievement Award, and others from local organizations including the Key West Jaycees, Last Stand, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Key West Hotel Motel Association. In 2009, certificates of recognition were received from Governor Charles Crist, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida House Representative Ron Saunders, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Monroe County and the City of Key West for Craig and my work.
"Coral Reefs need clean, clear, nutrient free waters to thrive."
My personal passion was our Clean Water Campaign because we learned that above all, coral reefs need clean, clear, nutrient free waters to thrive, as Dr. Brian Lapointe, Billy Causey and others pointed out. We promoted clean water for coral reefs and worked to achieve advanced wastewater and stormwater treatment in areas near coral reefs, always beginning with Key West. We worked with local government to establish a No Discharge Zone throughout the Florida Keys to stop wastewater discharges on the reefs, introduced a county-wide phosphate ban, and supported creation of marine protected areas such as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary-- with the first ever EPA Water Quality Protection Program and the Key West Marine Park-- with zones for boaters and swimmers.
It was a challenge and we ran up against big industry, big government and big national environmental groups. But we met many extraordinary people doing important things for reefs and are grateful for the community spirit that made it possible to achieve so much. After 23 wonderful years of grassroots efforts, in June, 2009, Craig and I resigned from Reef Relief and moved to Brooksville, Florida, where we are currently restoring an old wooden house.
L to r: Craig Quirolo, DeeVon Quirolo, Reef Relief Vice President Dorothy Lee Witwer and Reef Relief President Paul G. Johnson, who presented the Quirolos with trophies of appreciation at their final Annual Membership Meeting held in June, 2009 at the Casa Marina Resort in Key West.
This is our personal site, not officially associated with Reef Relief in any way. Although we have moved on from Reef Relief, our abiding concern for coral reefs will always be a part of our lives. Our goal is to insure that valuable information on coral reefs and examples of grassroots actions to protect them, including achievements during our years at Reef Relief, are available to inspire others. Most importantly, Craig has posted over 10,000 images of coral reefs taken over a period of 15 years as part of the Reef Relief Coral Photo Monitoring Survey. This irreplaceable long term study of changing reef health led to Craig's discovery of several new coral diseases that was followed with research into their causes. That information is now being integrated into public policies to increase protection for coral reefs. The full content of the survey is available here for free to be downloaded and used by researchers, media, students, educators, divers and the general public. Anyone can learn to identify various stages of reef health by viewing Just for Divers-Craig's slide show on reef health. We'll also post resources and educational materials on coral reefs such the Coral Reef Teacher's Guide by past board member Wendy Weir, the Marine Debris Timeline mini-poster by Joel Biddle and lots of photographs of coral reefs, reef fish, reef threats, scientific studies, current reef issues and new projects we're involved in. Information is power. We hope this inspires you to go out and do your part to help save the biologically rich, but endangered, coral reefs of the world.
Over 10,000 Images of Coral Reefs Taken Over a Period of 15 Years
If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering. Aldo Leopold, Round River, 1993.