Thousands of scuba divers, snorkelers, anglers and watersports enthusiasts visit the Florida Keys annually to dive or snorkel the United States’ only living coral reef and enjoy Keys waters. In November 2015, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary marks 25 years of dedication to protecting the world’s third-largest barrier reef and the waters surrounding the island chain.
Administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and jointly managed with the state of Florida, FKNMS became one of 14 marine protected areas in the National Marine Sanctuary System when it was established in November 1990.
Today the sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of waters. Its boundaries stretch from Biscayne National Park near Miami to the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles west of Key West.
Within these boundaries lie spectacular, nationally significant marine resources, historic shipwrecks and other archeological treasures, extensive seagrass beds, mangrove-fringed islands and more than 6,000 species of marine life.
FKNMS provides the foundation for a destination that cares deeply about its environment and has proven to be a positive force in attracting eco-conscious visitors to the Florida Keys.
Visitors to the sanctuary are encouraged to experience the many recreational activities the ecosystem offers, including world-class diving, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, boating, dolphin-watching and paddleboarding. Rules and regulations ensure that those activities are not harmful to the Keys’ natural resources.
A voluntary recognition program, Blue Star, was established by the sanctuary to promote responsible tourism, teaching divers and snorkelers in-water etiquette such as reef fish identification, practicing good buoyancy, careful hand and fin placement, and avoiding contact with coral. Professional operators display their dedication to coral reef education and conservation with a flag or decal with the Blue Star logo on their charter vessel.
Although the 25th anniversary of the Keys sanctuary’s creation is officially marked Nov. 16, 2015, a special commemorative event precedes the anniversary.
A family fun festival is planned for 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 8, at the Islander Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost Resort, at mile marker 82.1 in Islamorada. Highlights of the free event include a Conservation Village, games, live music, a pig roast and guest speakers who will share tales of the sanctuary’s history of protecting coral reefs, seagrass beds and other natural wonders.
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