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Q&A: Mike Zimmer of ‘Destination Dive’ on Reef Conservation, Shipwrecks and Why the Florida Keys Are a Diving Hotspot

“Destination Dive” is a new series debuting this Sunday on Discovery. The show puts the focus on five world-class diving locations in the Florida Keys, and the unique aspects of the area. As the team moves across destinations each week, they put a spotlight on underwater discoveries from reef conservation to shipwrecks. 

Outdoors caught up with Executive Producer Mike Zimmer for a few questions about the show and what makes the Florida Keys such a great dive destination.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Mike – how did you get into diving, what draws you back to exploring underwater?
Zimmer: I have been diving for over 35 years and have traveled the world exploring our oceans and telling their stories. Living in South Florida gives me access to some of the best diving in the world. From reefs to wrecks, every time I go diving I see something new, there are so many great stories to tell. With our show we highlight everyday people doing great things to protect our oceans.

What makes the Florida Keys such a special place for divers?
Zimmer: The Florida Keys has the most diverse diving in the world, from reefs to wrecks, they have it all. You can dive a wreck in the morning and do an awesome reef in the afternoon. You have the Wreck Trek, which starts in Key Largo and runs all the way down to Key West. You have John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park that caters to both divers and snorkelers. I’ve been diving all over the world, and I have some of the best diving right in my backyard

Islamadora is one of the places you feature on the show. It’s a great diving location, but also a sportfishing hot spot. Does that create conflicts or special considerations for divers?
Zimmer:
It seems like the diving and the sportfishing community get along really well, for the most part. I’m an avid fisherman as well, and we never have issues with divers. There’s enough ocean to go around for everyone. 

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Image by Discovery

You explore some shipwrecks on your dives. For divers who haven’t experienced that, explain what the appeal of that might be.
Zimmer: Wrecks have a mystery around them. Seeing them in their underwater grave is really cool. They attract some great fish and the coral life is amazing, but they are not for everyone, [and] you have to go through a special certification to dive most of them. Each wreck tells a story. How did it end on the ocean floor? Was there treasure? Was it sunk during WWII… or was there a hurricane? 

In the final episode, you feature some incredible reef conservation work. Can you tell us how that came to be, and how these findings might be applied in other areas where reefs are in danger?
Zimmer:
This expedition had never been done before, removing corals off the ocean floor before a major disease was going to kill them. Then putting them in aquariums across the U.S., hoping they would survive. Not only did they survive but they spawned, and grew to be planted back on the reef in the Keys. These coral will now be protected for generations to come.
I think this expedition laid the groundwork for other teams to do what they did. Now they know that corals can be saved and reproduced in captivity and to add to the coral that are suffering in the oceans.

What do you want people to take away from watching Destination Dive?
Zimmer:
Our goal has always been to educate people about the oceans and how they can make a difference. By planting corals, and being a citizen scientist we can all play a role. It’s about teaching the next generation what they can do so we have coral reefs for generations to come.

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Image by Artist GNDPhotography

Destination Dive Episode Guide:

Week One: Key Largo

Discovery Channel, 8:00 AM ET on August 6th

Dive into incredible underwater shipwrecks and spectacular reefs that lay off Key Largo. What’re the unique ways in which renowned conservationists are urgently working to save corals?  

Week Two: Islamorada

Discovery Channel, 8:00 AM ET on August 13th

Islamorada offers the crown jewels of shipwrecks and reefs, crystal-clear water teeming with sea life, and a fantastic program designed to educate divers about the benefits of coral restoration and regeneration. 

Week Three: Marathon

Discovery Channel, 8:00 AM ET on August 20th

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice… how about a shipwreck hit by 500 lightning strikes! It may be unlucky, but you’re in luck.    

Week Four: Big Pine Key and Key West   

Discovery Channel, 8:00 AM ET on August 27th

A shipwreck with an incredible past. Dive into this time capsule, just off Key West. Next, head down deep to one of the top ten dive sites, Looe Key off Big Pine Key. Here, a one-of-a-kind undersea concert entertains divers and boaters, but it has a purpose. The goal? Promote eco-conscious diving and conservation.  

Week Five: Noah’s Ark

Discovery Channel, at 8:00 AM ET on September 3rd

It was a dramatic race against time as a destructive disease threatened Florida’s precious corals. With iconic waters, the Florida Keys is at the epicenter of coral research and conservation 

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