You know you’ve achieved success when you can give back to the very thing you love. When you can share your passion with others and they not only enjoy the experience, but become a part of it. When, together, you can make a difference that will last long after you’re gone. Eric Billips hadn’t expected to be where he is today, but he is because he seizes opportunities when they arise. He started as a scuba instructor that seized an opportunity to own a dive shop. Then he seized the opportunity to own another.
And now, as owner of Islamorada Dive Center and Florida Keys Dive Center, he seizes every opportunity to introduce, involve, and inspire his patrons in conservation efforts.As is often the case when trying to preserve the environment for the future, Eric started by teaching kids. For years, he has volunteered with Ocean Studies School and Coral Shores High School’s marine science program. He is also now helping Treasure Village and their new marine program.
Many students “grow up” in these programs, first learning to appreciate the ocean and its creatures. Then, how to care for it. And eventually, how to inspire others to do the same. “These kids can start young with these programs and continue their scuba education all through high school,” Eric explains. “What’s really neat is many of them come to intern at my dive shops and later join my staff or break out their own. It’s really cool to see them grow up and stay involved.”
Eric mentors students on dry land, too. He’s seized the opportunities to coach youth baseball, basketball, and lacrosse. “I love coaching those little dudes,” he says with a smile and adds how many of them also participate in the school programs. “Now, I get called ‘coach’ out on the water, too.”Islamorada Dive Center is also becoming the hub for the Diveheart non-profit organization. Diveheart helps children, adults, and veterans with disabilities through scuba diving and scuba therapy.
Eric and a growing number of his staff are certified with the Handicapped SCUBA Association (HSA) to train and dive with people with disabilities. People of all ages and backgrounds with disabilities can turn to Islamorada Dive Center or go through Diveheart to “discover the forgiving… gravity-free environment for those who might otherwise struggle on land.”Islamorada Dive Center has always prided itself on three key conservation efforts: marine debris cleanup, shark awareness, and coral restoration. Eric’s “super big passion” in these areas has led to another unexpected opportunity that is making huge headway in the Keys.
A good friend and fellow dive shop owner, Mike Goldberg, co-founded I.CARE (Islamorada Conservation And Restoration Education) with Dr. Kylie Smith. I.CARE’s mission is to get the local community and visitors involved in coral restoration and maintenance. “Mike told me they couldn’t succeed without the help and support of local dive shops,” Mike says. “When he told me what he and Kylie were planning, I said, ‘I’m all in. ALL IN!’”
I.CARE is now in full swing, already making a big difference with over 5,000 corals planted. Islamorada Dive Center’s “Coral Restoration Dives” are growing in popularity, with patrons returning to the Keys to check on the coral they planted on their last dive. By introducing youth to the sea, inspiring people with disabilities, and involving everyone in conservation efforts, Islamorada Dive Center’s mission goes deeper than diving. Eric’s deep passion for diving will soon be shared with the world, too, through a TV series. Destination Dive, hosted by Eric Billips, is coming to the Discovery channel this year.
Visit islamoradadivecenter.com to book your diving experience.
– Jerrica Mah is a writer, Army wife, and freelance book editor, who loves to travel with her family.