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Pepsi Stronger Together supports Lauderdale-By-The-Sea reef – South Florida Sun-Sentinel – South Florida Sun Sentinel

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There is strength in numbers and that was evident by the outpouring of support that showed up at Lauderdale-By-The-Sea for the Pepsi Stronger Together and Force Blue’s Coastal Conservation Ops summer tour.
The initiative is part of the summer-long marine conservation series that included coral reef disease monitoring, sea turtle surveys and beach cleanups.
Florida has the third-longest barrier reef system in the world that is known as the Florida Reef Tract. Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is part of that reef tract, which has a three-tier system that runs parallel to the beach.
The town prides itself on having an accessible coral reef known as tier one that is only 400 to 600 feet offshore and is convenient for beach dives. Tier two is about 1.5 to 2 miles off the shoreline in about 30 feet of water, while tier three or the “third reef” is in about 45 feet of water that drops off to about 100 feet.
The Florida Reef Tract treasure is under duress with over 90% of the coral ridge cover reduced over the last few decades. A call to action was sent out to help prevent further damages. Pepsi Stronger Together teamed up with Force Blue, NAUI, Keep Florida Beautiful and dive volunteers to lend a helping hand with the hope of stemming the tide of coral tissue loss disease.
Professional mixed martial artist and two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison joined Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mack Hollins to strap on the dive gear for a beach dive cleanup and investigation of the coral reef system. They were joined by 30 former Marine divers and over 50 recreational divers at El Prado Park in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
Force Blue is a nonprofit entity that was created in 2015 with the purpose of uniting combat divers from all military service branches to join marine scientists and conservationists to protect the marine environment.
“We have created a model of caring cooperation and that is the only way we are going to win this fight to save our environment and the coral reef system,” said Jim Ritterhoff, the executive director and co-founder of Force Blue. “We engaged the local dive community to assist us in this fight and want them to understand that they have an important role to play. We train divers on what to look for when they are out on the reef and they can report their findings. We chose Lauderdale-By-The-Sea due to the proximity of the shoreline.”
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea was the last stop on the marine conservation tour after visits to Destin, Jupiter and Tampa. Force Blue has been educating the dive community on how to become citizen scientists and to report their observations through the Southeast Florida Action Network.
“We hope to have a community in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea that is very engaged,” Ritterhoff said. “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation group have been great leaders that the rest of the nation can follow. The good news on the LBTS project is we saw very little bleaching, very little disease, not a lot of invasive species like lionfish but did discover a lot of marine debris. The reefs all the way down to the Tortugas are a national treasure. For a myriad of reasons, it is under threat right now.”
The Force Blue veterans program is for special operation divers who are military combat veterans like Navy SEALS, Air Force Pararescue, Recon Marines and Army Special Forces. Force Blue has plans in place to work with organizations like NAUI to create an outpost program to instruct any veteran on how to get scuba certified.
“We focus on the veteran’s potential and look to tap into their training and skills,” Ritterhoff said. “They can continue to serve. Why put millions of dollars of training on the shelf? The is a very real fight going on and it’s a fight to preserve and restore our marine environment. It’s very therapeutic.”
Donations can enable Special Forces personnel to come into the Force Blue program and continue to fight, serve and protect.
Pepsi Stronger Together is all about working with communities and creating a positive impact for generations to come.
“This was a no-brainer to create a partnership with Force Blue and Pepsi and our veterans are just awesome,” said Derek Lewis, the president of PepsiCo Beverages North America. “This was a great match, and we are proud of what we are accomplishing. We are a force to be reckoned with. It has been a great summer where we took on the challenge of cleaning up Ghost Gear, which is part of the 11 million tons of plastic in the ocean every year. We will raise awareness and take on the problem of marine pollution. It’s about respecting our wildlife and our coastlines. By working with Force Blue and the FWC, we are helping to ensure the future of the incredible Florida coastline.”
Visit forceblueteam.org.

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