by Tiffany Duong
“There’s just something about the Florida Keys that is unreal, and you can’t find it anywhere else.” That’s how Capt. Samantha Zeher, of KeyZ Charters, describes her home and office in this island paradise.
As a brand guided by aloha, we are naturally drawn to others who share our same values of respect, kindness, loyalty and heart. Arriving in the Keys, we instantly connected with their island spirit and culture – and knew that we’d found another instance of Anywhere Aloha.
Zeher runs eco-tours to show visitors the beauty of her natural environment. She educates her clients about the biology behind what they’re seeing and why it all matters. “Life on the water can be so many things to so many people, but for me, it's all about nature and wildlife,” she says. Understanding and respecting the connectivity between land and sea – between the many ecosystems that make up South Florida’s landscape – is key to protecting this paradise.
“Mangroves are really important for the environment here on a lot of different levels,” Zeher begins her tours. Many fish species use their intricate root systems as nursery and feeding habitats, which support the healthy fisheries that the Florida Keys are known for. Mangroves and nearby seagrass beds also support marine life by filtering fresh water coming from Lake Okeechobee, increasing the clarity and quality of water in Florida Bay – which helps all that live there, including humans. Additionally, mangroves naturally strengthen shorelines against hurricanes, tidal surge, erosion and sea level rise – crucial concerns in South Florida. Finally, according to UNESCO, the unique plants also store crucial amounts of carbon within the actual plant fibers and the sediments they trap. Therefore, they’re critical in the global fight against climate change.
Unfortunately, especially on the mainland, “[a] lot of our shorelines on the Florida coast used to have mangroves, but now they’re beaches and hotels,” Zeher says. “The mangroves have been ripped out, concrete’s been brought in and poured, and then sand on top of it for development.” With the loss of mangroves, we also miss out on the ecosystem benefits they give us.
Because of all that’s at risk, Zeher loves to bring her clients to areas in the Florida Keys where there are still lots of mangroves. “Without the mangroves, life would be hurt,” Zeher says. Living on the water, she sees first hand what scientists are confirming – that the land and sea are intricately connected and that any disconnections between them will have dire impacts. That’s why Keys guides and captains like Zeher advocate for safe boating practices that leave mangroves, sea grasses and coral reefs intact.
Guided by their own spirit of aloha, these water women and men understand that respect and kindness – for one another and for nature – are what truly matter. “Everybody here in the Keys is super friendly,” Zeher says. “If you’re out there and you see somebody in trouble or you see they might need a hand, you lend that hand.”
This kindness and compassion extends to the natural world, too. “We’re always on the lookout to help other people and be friendly to them – but also all the animals in nature that are here,” Zeher says. This often looks like picking up any trash they see or helping injured wildlife.
“The Florida Bay and Florida Keys waters are definitely capable of being saved, it's just a matter of making the right choices moving forward and seeing them through eternity,” she says. “There are a lot of conservation efforts already in place that are successful, we just need to keep doing those things.”
Zeher and others like her know there’s no place like the Keys; so, despite the challenges that a modernizing world brings, these eco-conscious guides and captains will continue to protect their paradise. For ways to get involved, visit the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association at FKFGA.org.