I.CARE combines marine conservation, technology, and the passion of recreational divers to regenerate the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. With an extensive background in diving, Mike has experienced firsthand the implications of coral loss and is now on a mission to save the reefs and educate the public on this important topic. Learn more about the work that landed I.CARE a 2023 CNN Heroes’ nomination here!
What inspired you to start I.CARE?
I became a scuba diving professional about 28 years ago, and so much has changed underwater since then. The reefs used to be so full of life, we would have corals competing for space. Over the years, coral has disappeared from various diseases and I got sick of what I was seeing. I wanted to start a program to mobilize recreational divers and use science as a cornerstone to anchor the mission of conservation and restoration. I met my cofounder, Dr. Kylie Smith, when she was working on her PhD and came into my dive shop. Her link to the science world and my link to the diving world led to our partnership.
What do coral reefs provide to the ocean ecosystem?
In the broadest terms, every living thing depends on the ocean. 25% of all marine life spends time on a coral reef, but coral reefs make up less than 1% of the sea floor. That is obviously a huge imbalance. We don’t have a living ocean without coral reefs, and if the ocean dies, so do we. It all is integrated. This is a relatively new problem that only affects certain areas of the world. Most people don’t think about this issue because they are so far removed from it, so education and awareness is crucial. We have the ability to alter this trajectory, and we shouldn’t accept the fate of reefs dying without fighting it.
What does a dive with I.CARE entail?
When a diver arrives, they learn about coral reefs, the history of reefs in the area, and the science behind the corals we are putting down. They get a hands-on demo to learn how to place the coral. They then go out on a boat with a bucket of coral, epoxy, nails, drills, and anything else we need to install the coral. The divers are in the trenches with us, involved every step of the way. I can put more coral down on a dive than someone who I just trained that morning, but that’s not the point. It’s vital to spread awareness by bringing new people into this. People feel connected to an issue when they’ve experienced it firsthand, and it makes them want to do more.
What is the best part of your job?
My favorite part is watching the coral grow and thrive. As goofy as that sounds, it gives me hope when I go out in the water and see a piece of coral thriving. It’s amazing to see people get excited about what we do underwater. I’m creating an army of passionate ocean conservationists and giving them an opportunity to be part of something with a global impact. With our CNN Heroes nomination, I am now holding up a large megaphone for an industry that a lot of the public doesn’t understand. It’s a lot of pressure, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to expand our outreach.