Upper Keys Weekly 20-0709

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erry Greenberg can often be found examining laminated photographs of Key Largo reefs long gone. Those who don’t know would never guess that the 93-year-old is the guy when you’re talking about Keys reefs, diving and underwater photography. Born in 1927 in Chicago, Greenberg “grew up swimming and being out on the water here” after his parents bought a winter home in Miami Beach. At Miami’s Beach High, he took up spearfishing and photography. He became a photojournalist, and since the 1950s, Greenberg has photographed the Keys’ reefs and advocated for their protection. He shared some of the history he’s witnessed. “Do you know how they chose the site for the Christ (of the Abyss)?” he asked. When the Underwater Society of America received the statue, Greenberg’s high school friends, his spearfishing buddies, were asked where to put it because they knew the reefs best. He remembered when the Benwood wreck hadn’t been picked apart by metal salvagers, and how neoprene was invented as a World War II effort to lessen U.S. dependence on Japanese rubber. He also used the first aqualung that came into this country from France. “I knew a guy at a fraternity, and he bought the first aqualung sold at a Miami gun shop,” he said. “There were no compressors back then, so bottles had to be filled at fire stations.” Greenberg first took pictures underwater by shooting through a glass-bottom bucket. Eventually, he made his own underwater housings, since what he needed didn’t exist. “I had the best equipment in the world, and I had that lead for many years,” he said. Lad Akins, a dive legend in his own right and Greenberg’s long-time friend, recalled seeing Greenberg at work on Key Largo’s reefs. “Back then, Jerry was a striking figure going out in his Boston Whaler all alone,” Akins said. “At the reef, he had a huge innertube that he kept all his cameras in ’cause back then it was film, limited to 36 exposures. So, he brought a

bunch.” Stephen Frink, a prolific underwater photographer and friend of Greenberg’s since the 1970s, said, “People starting out today will never understand how many things he invented because he had to. No one else was doing what he was doing in the late ’50s, early ’60s.” “Jerry’s got this visual history of what the Keys were like, like South Carysfort when it was really beautiful,” Frink continued. “There’s a visual history that resides in his archives, and he’s probably the only person with it. That profound legacy cannot be understated.” In 1962, National Geographic reached out. Greenberg photographed a young diver over a vibrant coral reef in an early aqualung prototype, an image that would captivate millions as the magazine’s first color underwater cover. In 1990, he would again photograph the reef, this time showing its decline from his images 30 years prior. The awareness that ensued, rumor has it, influenced national politicians who saw the story to authorize the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that same year. He published several ground-breaking books on underwater photography, including one of his most iconic, “Manfish with a Camera,” in which Greenberg described his work as an underwater photojournalist. Greenberg also created his iconic waterproof Fish I.D. cards with his wife, Idaz, to show people what they were looking at underwater. The cards are still used worldwide, and Greenberg personally restocks the stands in the Keys to this day. So, how do you commemorate and celebrate the man who did so much for diving and showcasing the underwater world? You take him diving, of course, and you let him take pictures. Greenberg recently went out on a very special sunset dive with Quiescence Dive Shop and some legendary friends. Rob Bleser, the owner of Quiescence, said, “Jerry’s been such an important part of our professional careers, we felt it was only fitting to

put this together. At his young age of 93, it was our honor and privilege to assist him in getting underwater.” “We were there to honor a diving legend, his legacy,” said Frazier Nivens, Emmy-awardwinning filmmaker known for his work with sharks. On their way out, Nivens told Greenberg how his dive shop in the Bahamas used to sell the Fish I.D. cards and how his then 4- or 5-year-old daughter, Jessica, would “wanna do Jerry Greenberg tonight” and ask her dad to quiz her on every fish on the card. “He impacted so many people he didn’t even know,” Nivens said. When the dive buddies descended on the reef at the Catacombs, Jerry took his fins off and walked around the sand bottom, taking


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