To date, more than five million videos featuring the Florida Reef have been posted to YouTube. The most popular garner more than a half million views, making anyone who has the will to go diving a potential documentarian with the tools to make issues come alive for a global audience. These unscripted stories represent who we are, what we think, and what we choose to share with the world. This ‘cinema of me,’ is a form worthy of our reconsideration as a uniquely popular expression of our human experience and commonality.

As a media studies researcher, teacher, and part-time Florida Keys resident since the late 1970's, I examine videos produced by divers of the Florida Reef. Divers are a community of practice and provide a unique point of view of underwater environments. The diver point of view is composed of specialized equipment, industry skills, experience and training including environmental awareness and eco-centric behavior that can shape our understanding of underwater environments. Divers also serve to define how we might imagine the Florida Reef as a place, a culture, and an integral part of this American life.

Reef environments have changed; effective media can help us make responsible decisions. The popularity of recreational SCUBA diving, access to the technology, and the ensuing proliferation of imagery shared on social media signals an opportunity to broaden our approach and reconsider how we shape the Florida Reef through media practices. Of pressing importance is the representation of time, space, and place – foundational components necessary to our understanding of our world – and the bridge between media literacy and environmental literacy.

My study draws upon scholars and writers working across disciplines including marine biologist, conservationist and author, Rachel Carson (1907-1964), who wrote On the Edge of the Sea (1955) while camping on Ohio Key; civilization scholar, Margaret Cohen, and author Joy Williams, who wrote the most popular guidebook on the Florida Keys (2003). Her tenth and final edition includes an afterword that pointedly describes the changes she witnessed over her tenure.

This study raises the following questions: How might these videos contribute to our understanding of the reef environment? What practical knowledge might we uncover from images and videos of the Florida Reef environments produced by divers? What are the applications and uses for such knowledge?

Potential outcomes: Guidelines for enhancing skills in interpreting the impact of media on the reef environment and new practices of video production, interpretation, and social use of reef media. Collaborations to investigate, expand and apply emerging practical knowledge to advance a coral reef culture of lower-impact, sustainability, and environmental protection across stakeholder groups.

If you are a diver who also shoots underwater video along the Florida Reef and want to learn more about the study or are willing to be interviewed, please e-mail by Friday, Feb. 15. Interviews will be conducted Feb. 18-March 15.

Deborah James, Ph.D., is a media studies scholar at Governors State University, conducting field research in the Florida Keys. For more information about Deborah's work, visit her website here.