Military veterans aim to save marine environment


Operation: Blue Pride helps vets by introducing them to diving and pushing them to defend the marine environment.


Retired Army Sgt. Chris Maddeford is in pain nearly all the time after being hit by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan about a decade ago. The 31-year-old Chicago vet has four anchors in his right hip and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the pain disappears when he goes scuba diving — a pastime he took up as therapy a couple of years ago. Now with 500 dives logged, Maddeford has been named executive director of the nonprofit Operation: Blue Pride, whose mission is to introduce vets to the underwater world and enlist them in a new army defending the marine environment.

“My mission is to provide vets the opportunity to get involved with marine life projects … to be in team-building events,” Maddeford said. “We need to raise funds to get as many vets in the water as possible.”

The word-of-mouth and Internet draft campaign, funded by donations and bolstered by a new, hour-long documentary, seems to be working. Maddeford said there’s a 350-vet waiting list to join Blue Pride. He’s busy lining up volunteer instructors such as professional deep-diving pioneer John Chatterton of Fort Lauderdale to train and certify new scuba divers.

“Certify them and give them a mission,” Maddeford said.

A 2012 diving expedition to the Bahamas with Blue Pride cofounders Jim Abernethy, a West Palm Beach dive operator and underwater videographer, and mobility equipment maker Sue Chen of California opened Maddeford’s eyes to the plight of the world’s sharks. With two other disabled vets and British aeronautical tycoon Sir Richard Branson, Maddeford got to swim with a friendly and photogenic tiger shark nicknamed Emma. Learning that millions of sharks are being maimed and dumped overboard worldwide to make shark fin soup spurred him to action.

“When it started sinking into me what was happening in the oceans, it’s unacceptable,” he said.

So Maddeford and other Blue Pride volunteers got to work: They are lobbying the Florida Legislature to pass a law prohibiting all trade and distribution of shark fins in the state and imposing criminal penalties for violators. They also plan to help the Key Largo-based non-profit Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) conduct fish surveys and cut down exotic lionfish populations. They mentor youth divers — and they dive just for fun.

Last week, a group of about two dozen Blue Pride volunteers and boosters — including a handful of newly-certified vets — took a half-day scuba trip with Capt. Slate’s Atlantis Dive Center in Key Largo. On their first plunge to about 25 feet on the wreck of the City of Washington, the group gathered around captain Spencer Slate and colleague Annette Robertson as they hand-fed a six-foot green moray eel. Maddeford and Army vet Jason Beedy of Maine got to hold the eel briefly in their arms.

“Squishy, like a big, chubby cat,” Maddeford said.

“That was something else,” Beedy said in agreement.

Beedy, 33, said he has been going through some hard times the past few months struggling with post-traumatic stress. Newly certified as an open-water diver by Chatterton, he said he loves the sport.

“It’s so relaxing, so peaceful,” Beedy said. “There’s no stress, no anxiety, no survivors’ guilt. I feel free down there. It’s been a long time since I’ve had satisfaction like that.”

He said he plans to return to the Veterans Administration hospital in Maine and “find some guys and turn them on to Chris. I see these guys that are like me, how they live their lives and it makes me want to be a better person — the old me.”

Chatterton, a Vietnam War veteran and a dive instructor since 1987, says the Blue Pride vets are the easiest students he has ever trained.

“From an instructor’s standpoint, you couldn’t ask for a better group of men and women. They are all highly motivated,” he said.

Chatterton, a diving pioneer best known for his identification of a lost World War II German submarine sunk off New Jersey that was documented in the bestselling book, Shadow Divers, said military veterans are an “incredible resource to tap into” to help solve problems confronting the world’s oceans.

“Civilians haven’t been successful; they’re losing the war,” Chatterton said. “The military has a different mind-set. They have a focus and determination for the mission. These vets get something out of it, and at the same time, the marine environment benefits and so we all benefit.”

• For more information about Operation: Blue Pride, visit operationbluepride.com.

Read more Outdoors stories from the Miami Herald

  • Fishing report

    Captain Glyn Austin of Going Coastal Fishing Charters out of Sebastian reported that catch-and-release fishing for snook with live baits and artificial lures day and night has been outstanding in and around the Sebastian Inlet all the way north to the Patrick Air Force Base. Redfish and a few permits are biting in the Sebastian Inlet and are being caught on small blue crabs. Along the beaches, tarpon, bonito, jacks and sharks can be targeted all the way to Port Canaveral. These fish have been feeding along the big baitfish schools. Offshore reef fishing has been good for cobias and mangrove snappers up to 12 pounds.

A large Goliath grouper nestled into the Bonaire shipwreck off Jupiter.


    Outdoors feature: Goliath groupers make recovery but harvest remains on hold

    Dropping into the roiled, murky waters 60 feet deep off Jupiter Inlet on Monday, I heard the annual spawning aggregation of Goliath groupers before I actually saw it. Below me, I could barely make out the wreck of the MG 111 or the mottled, gentle giants that show up each year between late July and mid-October to keep their species going. But the Goliaths already had seen our group of divers and weren’t too happy about our visit. They emitted loud, bass booming noises that sound a little like gun reports – probably to alert each other and to warn us not to get too cozy.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Under the sea:</span> The ferro cement sailboat Usikusiku sits 75 feet deep on the ocean floor after being deployed Tuesday as an artificial reef off Hollywood. It already is attracting marine life.


    Sailboat finds new life in final resting place

    The 43-foot ferro cement sailboat doesn’t look very impressive sitting on the ocean floor about 75 feet deep off Hollywood. It’s plain and bare with no design flourishes.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category