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DiverWire Profile: Karrie Carnes – Her Government Job Runs Deep

(DiverWire) Sure, she technically has a “government” job, but just about any scuba diver would trade places with Karrie Carnes in a second. As the Communications Coordinator for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Carnes spends her days either diving, talking about diving or planning a dive.

Lionfish with Karrie Carnes
Karrie on lionfish patrol. Photo by George Cathcart,

OK. To be fair, she does have her share of reports to write, paperwork to review and phone calls to return, but Carnes says she has the greatest job in the world. “My job is the perfect mix of journalism, my love of scuba diving and the passion I have for marine conservation.”

Her office (at least her desk) is located in Key West, but Carnes “real” office is the 2,900 square nautical miles of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. One of 13 “underwater parks” overseen by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, education and awareness are near the top of her “duties”.

“Our goal is to enhance visitor appreciation for the aquatic resources in the Keys,” Carnes says. “Divers make up a large percentage of visitors to the Keys and we work closely with dive retailers.” She adds that dive operators have the opportunity to be conservation ambassadors because they have direct contact with the divers who visit the Keys. As a result, she spends a lot of time talking with dive operators throughout the entire Keys.

She has built some strong relationships with members of the dive industry who see the results of her efforts.

“Karrie is a true believer in maintaining the health of the marine ecosystem. She developed and manages the FKNMS Blue Star program, which is a seal of approval for dive operators, so the consumer knows that the dive operator operates in the most ecologically friendly way possible,” says Frank Wesson, captain of the well-known MV Spree live-aboard vessel.

As a PADI Divemaster, Carnes understands the dive industry, but her original career path involved becoming a music publicist. However, a trip to Fiji and Australia in 2001 gave her a new outlook on her future. “Once I became a diver and was able to see firsthand the threats to the reefs; it changed my perspective and my life.”

Closeup of Karrie Carnes
Photo by George Cathcart,

She began her government career working at NOAA headquarters in Maryland. That led to her coming to the Florida Keys three years ago. During her time with NOAA, she has led a number of initiatives including the Blue Star outreach program that recognizes local dive retailers and operators. She is also actively part of an ongoing educational program to make divers aware of the invasion of the Lionfish throughout the Keys.

“We’re working together with REEF to put on a series of lionfish tournaments to help reduce the growing lionfish population,” Carnes said. “We had three successful round-ups last year and three more scheduled for this summer and fall.”

The lionfish invasion could have serious long-term effects on the region’s marine life. “It is an issue that I feel very strongly about,” she said.

While she isn’t able to get in the water as much as she’d like, Carnes is looking forward to the summer when her goal is to dive every weekend with her permanent dive buddy Scott, a NOAA scientist. “It helps when you have a boat – it gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Bio shot Karrie CarnesDoes she have a favorite dive? With thousands of possible dive sites in the Keys, there are certainly plenty to choose from. “If I can’t get out to the Tortugas, then I’m happy appreciating the small stuff that can be found on the patch reefs. You can spend hours on a single site.”

Carnes says she enjoys exploring both the historic shipwrecks of the Keys as well as the numerous artificial reefs, including the most recent, the Vandenberg wreck. She has plans to hit them all at some point in the future.

She’s just returned from six months on assignment in St. Petersburg where she helped deal with some of the issues relating to last year’s Gulf oil spill. In addition to helping coordinate the lionfish events, Carnes is pursuing her NOAA diver certification, an advanced level training program offered though NOAA.

If you’re planning on attending any of the Lionfish tournaments scheduled for the Keys later this summer, chances are good that you’ll run into Karrie – either on the shore OR in the water with all the other divers.

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