Combat vets join forces to save coral reefs

| 22/08/2016
CNS Local Life

Coral nursery at Sunset House

(CNS): An international non-profit organisation dedicated to retraining veteran combat divers to restore coral reefs and promote conservation will be holding a major fundraiser in the US next month, with the goal of introducing its first training class at Sunset House Dive Resort in Cayman early next year. Force Blue seeks to help former Special Operations veterans utilise their training and teamwork to preserve the world’s coral reefs.

The fundraising reception in honour of these veterans and the Force Blue programme will be held in Dallas, Texas on Monday, 26 September, according to a press release from Sunset House.

“The response to Force Blue has been astounding, and we’re honoured to have the support of some very prominent people,” said Sunset House general manager Keith Sahm, who co-founded the organisation.

Texas real estate magnate and Earth Day Texas founder Trammel S. Crow is hosting the Dallas event, and the guest list includes some big names from both the veteran and business communities. Individuals expected to attend the fundraiser include (Ret) US Navy SEAL Admiral Ed Winter; (Ret) USMC General David Garza; former Recon Marine and star of the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, Rudy Reyes; Benghazi survivor Kris “Tanto” Paronto, whose story was told in the film 13 Hours; and Chuck Pfarrer, former SEAL Team Six member and author of The New York Times bestseller, SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama Bin Laden.

The idea for Force Blue developed in Grand Cayman last summer during discussions at Sunset House between Sahm, Reyes and long-time friend Jim Ritterhoff. The men were diving daily, and Sahm gave them a tour of the resort’s new coral nursery where restoration work is being done. The diving proved therapeutic for Reyes, who himself had been battling with the challenges of civilian life after multiple combat deployments.

CNS Local Life

Rudy Reyes

“We all know the struggles our veterans, particularly our Special Forces veterans, face coming home after years at war,” said Ritterhoff. “Our thought was if we could somehow use diving and marine conservation to give them a positive mission, we could not only help them, but the planet as well.”

Sahm said, “It’s a win, win for everyone. Not only will Force Blue train these highly skilled men and women how to help restore damaged reefs, but it will also teach them to be spokespeople for ocean conservation worldwide.”

Reyes added, “We’re giving warriors a cause and a cause its warriors.”

Sunset House will be the base for Force Blue in Grand Cayman when the first mission is announced and team members are ready to hit the water. Marine science experts will train the vets in coral restoration and they will then help tend the resort’s new coral nursery. Other Cayman dive operators have committed to help with the programme, as has the Central Caribbean Marine Institute in Little Cayman.

Sahm said ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, who was himself severely wounded in Iraq, has expressed interested in covering the first class at Sunset House.

“Starting out, Cayman just makes the most logistical sense for us,” said Ritterhoff. “We have the contacts and support in Cayman to launch Force Blue in a powerful way.  And Cayman affords us not only access to one of the world’s healthiest and most vibrant coral reef systems, but access to some of the world’s finest conservation minds as well.”

With the world’s coral reefs under threat by global warming, massive bleaching events, overfishing and pollution, a helping hand from the best in the US is needed, said the press release.

The organisation’s initial two-week training programme will take place entirely in Cayman, but the plan calls for expanding Force Blue’s influence to different destinations around the world and bringing other teams aboard.

Sahm said he welcomes these reinforcements. He has been involved in the local environmental battle to save Cayman’s reefs from destruction ahead of a planned cruise ship dock in George Town harbour.

“It’s all about raising awareness and reaching a new audience with a message of conservation and care and our veterans are the perfect ambassadors,” Sahm said. He is asking for donations to support Force Blue. “Help us. Help vets. Help the planet. There is a lot of good that can be done by joining our team,” he said.

For more information about Force Blue or to donate to the organisation, go to its website or email Keith Sahm

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Category: Marine Environment

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