The Fourth of July isn’t the only thing worth celebrating this month. July 1 marks the anniversary of the expansion of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary! Originally designated by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on November 16, 1990, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary established a new sanctuary in the Florida Keys, subsuming Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary and Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. The 2001 addition of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, which included valuable coral reef habitat to the west of the original boundary, expanded federal protection of Keys waters to the more than 2,900 nautical square miles that it encompasses today!
Beyond serving as an important tool for conservation, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary affords visitors and locals alike the opportunity to enjoy the resources protected by the sanctuary and learn about ways to ensure continued protection of the site. Within its boundaries lie North America’s only living coral barrier reef (and one of the world’s largest), a trail of historic shipwrecks, and some of the most popular diving destinations in the state of Florida. From boating to diving, fishing to wildlife viewing, and snorkeling to stand-up paddleboarding, there is no shortage of recreational opportunities here. Even better, the absence of a true winter makes these activities accessible for most of the year. And for those who are looking for educational opportunities, there is no shortage. The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Blue Star Tour Operators, the sanctuary’s online boater education course, and programs throughout the sanctuary afford visitors the opportunity to learn about local species, sanctuary protections, and the Florida Keys community. It’s no wonder Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary supports the region’s success in global tourism!
Can’t make it to the Keys to celebrate this momentous occasion? Check out iconic locations in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary from anywhere — virtually! NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries offers virtual reality dive galleries for six locations within the sanctuary, which can be viewed on a desktop or mobile devices here.