By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Florida Keys are known for their scuba diving. Pristine reefs, shipwrecks, and a plethora of sea life draw divers from far and wide.

However, the pandemic heavily impacted the Keys dive charter industry.

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Several dive shops and charter operations went out of business, others were sold. One operation in Key Largo, however, that made it through is looking for better times come this summer.

Captain Spencer Slate has had an online presence for years. Videos of him dressing up as a scuba diving Santa or as the Easter Bunny leading an underwater egg hunt have been featured on YouTube and on television newscasts. His “Creature Feature” videos are a YouTube staple.

His charter boat business Capt. Slate’s Scuba Adventures took a major hit in 2020 but he said he was one of the lucky ones.

“There are other dive shops in the Keys that sold out to other shops. Some went out of business. One that has been in Marathon for over 43 years just closed down,” said Slate.

When the Keys were closed to non-residents things, Slate said things got tight. He was forced to slim down operations and locals who to advance their dive certifications helped with the revenue stream.

“It was me and my 30-year employee, the two of us, we were the only ones at the shop,” said Slate.

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The two of them kept a dive boat going. One day out on Molasses Reef, Slate said he was shocked to find no other dive boats moored there.

Another big economic hit came when college dive clubs canceled multiple day dive trips.

“The last two years we have not had the college spring breaks with big groups. Their colleges won’t let em do it,” said Slate.

Like so many businesses that have worked through the covid economic impact, the internet has played a major role in generating business. Slates’ persona, which was already known, helped reach his fan base, long-time customers.

“I have been on Facebook, Instagram, web pages, and a dive magazine,” he said.

While managing to keep his business afloat, Slate also had to deal with a medical issue and underwent ankle replacement surgery. Today, his leg is doing better as is his business, as Keys hotels and motels are seeing an increase in room rentals from vacation hungry travelers.

“What I am seeing with the vaccine, thousands of people, everybody (saying), ‘I got mine, I got mine.’ They feel better and I think the same, it’s going to be a lot better,” said Slate.

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He added while he’s not back to his pre-COVID numbers just yet, they are doing much better than they were at the height of the pandemic.