MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Another day out on the water and then under the water.
Diving in the Atlantic, off Key Largo, has always been one of the Florida Keys’ main tourism attractions.
Since 1978, Spencer Slate has operated one of the best-known diving operations in the northern island chain.
“Labor Day filling up so it looks like we are going to have a normal Labor Day,” Slate says.
Normal would be real good as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the Keys have reopened after shutting down to prevent the spread of the virus. That was not a good time for dive boat operators much less anyone else.
“People were dying to get out and loving it,” adds Slate. “I would say half the calls are about what COVID rules are in the Keys and what we are doing to sterilize our gear. It’s on everybody’s mind.”
Slate’s business nowadays is even more dependent on what is called “the drive market.” People driving to the Keys, especially from nearby states and of course Florida.
In extreme cases, customers driving all the way from Boston.
“They did not want to fly. I am thinking flying is getting pretty safe but still they didn’t want to mingle around the airport and drove down,” said Slate.
Slate took advantage of the Payroll Protection Plan. A number of people hunkered in the Keys during the pandemic wanted to dive, and along with locals kept the dive boats chugging out to the reefs but with the Keys opened with restrictions, and out-of-towners are returning.
“We are getting booking from people who were going to the Caymans to Belize, Galapagos, to the Bahamas and they are coming here because they feel it is safer and easier to get to and they don’t have to go through a two-week quarantine,” said Slate.
Slate hopes to salvage what is left of the summer dive season, hoping there is not another spike in coronavirus cases.