Naples students dive in to help reef restoration

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Naples middle school students join “Scuba gang” to help restore SWFL coral reefs. (WINK News)

Right now, there are middle schoolers in our area joining a gang — but they’re not criminals. This “Scuba gang” works to clean up our waters.

“It’s just really mind-blowing knowing that you can make a difference,” said 12-year-old Ana Vlad.

Making a difference in middle school goes below sea level for these students willing to dive right in.

“I didn’t really Scuba dive that much, but then when I heard Miss Stevens had started a club I decided to go do it,” said Katie Whitener.

Jimmi Stevens started the “Scuba gang” to inspire her Community School of Naples students to get out and clean up.

“I did coral restoration for the first time last summer and I immediately thought, how can I get kids involved,” she said.

Now, she has helped 23 children get certified to Scuba dive before they can legally drive a car. That’s 46 extra hands helping her plant PVC pipes to restore reefs off our shores.

“When I found out the reefs weren’t doing well, I really wanted to do something about it,” said 15-year-old Lucan Keyser. “The reefs are kind of the focus for the lifestyle that really most Floridians have, especially in southwest Florida.”

“I mean, our economy is based on tourism and the reefs really provide that,” said 12-year-old Darius Zafar.

Naples middle school students join “Scuba gang” to help restore SWFL coral reefs. (WINK News)

“It just felt like such a great thing to be able to help the environment,” Whitener said.

“We hope to do coral restoration a minimum of three times a year,” Stevens said.

Stevens works with the Coral Restoration Foundation and young minds eager to learn about the world around them, teaching them how they can change it.

“The thing that I like about being a part of this is knowing that 10 or 20 years from now, there’s just gonna be these beautiful reefs growing and knowing that your hand just worked to make that big reef,” Vlad said.

“My favorite part about it is just knowing I’m gonna have an impact on the world and the future,” said 13-year-old Emily Kaplan, a future shaped by their actions.

If you think disappearing coral reefs don’t affect you, think again.

The National Ocean Service says they prevent $94 million in flood damage each year. The reefs are worth more than $3 billion to the U.S. economy, including fishing and tourism right here in SWFL.

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