Celebrating Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

By Allie Braun, guest author

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary consist of a nearly 130 mile stretch of Florida’s peninsula. Fringing mangroves, seagrass meadows, hard bottom reigns, patch reefs, and bank reefs come together to create an ideal habitat for more than 6,000 different species of marine life. However, these clear waters weren’t always a protected paradise. On November 16, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act into law, designating the ninth site in the National Marine Sanctuary System. Today its border now supersedes all three original protected areas. In fact, it is now so large that if you have ever set foot into the Keys’ waterways, you have probably been in the sanctuary!

What better way to celebrate the anniversary of this sanctuary’s destination than to recognize everything it provides to not only the communities based around it but the thousands of travelers that visit its waters every year? Here are some of the activities you can experience in the sanctuary whether you’re a visitor or a full-time resident:

Jump in

Explore the bustling reefs

The world’s third largest living coral barrier reef is located within Florida Key National Marine Sanctuary, attracting divers and snorkelers who travel far and wide to experience the reef each year. The number of species who call the reef home is greater than in any other shallow-water marine ecosystem, meaning this is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Whether you are SCUBA diving or snorkeling to see this wonder, make sure to practice proper reef etiquette.

Explore a shipwreck

There are around a thousand shipwrecks off of the Florida Keys — nine located within the sanctuary create Shipwreck Trail. The trail forms an underwater playground for divers and marine life alike with wrecks dating back to 1733. Streaming with mystery, this string of wrecks create artificial reefs for marine life, opportunities for archaeological studies, and numerous other research opportunities.

Above the waves

Hop Aboard

Boating for both sport and wildlife viewing is a great way to explore the sanctuary. Whether you choose to navigate through the mangroves in a kayak or sail across the clear water open waters you are sure to see all times of wildlife if you keep your eyes open.

Cast a line

Fishing is allowed within the sanctuary and draws thousands of people to the sanctuary each year, however, there are certain rules set in place to ensure that the marine ecosystem is not harmed in the process. The sanctuary balances both commercial and recreational fishing with the needs of the ecosystem by having sanctuary-wide regulations and using a zoning system in other areas.

Stay On Solid Ground

Learn what’s under the sea at the Eco-Discovery center

The interactive Eco-Discovery learning center located in Key West houses over 6,000 square feet of interactive and dynamic exhibits about the sanctuary. You can experience everything from the native species that call the sanctuary home to a mock-up of the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only underwater ocean laboratory.

Experience it all through Virtual dives

Even if you can’t make it all the way to Florida to experience the underwater ecosystems yourself, you can see it all through the sanctuaries new virtual dive gallery. With six dive sites in the Gallery, you can experience the underwater world without ever getting wet.