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Spotlight: Visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Spotlight: Visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Enjoy a blast of warm weather fun this winter!

Snorkeling, Keys The warm turquoise waters of the Keys are full of life and perfect for snorkeling and diving.(NOAA)

What You’ll Find

Warm weather recreational activities like fishing, diving, snorkeling and boating, fascinating marine life and birds or shipwrecks sunk intentionally or through folly. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects the third largest living coral barrier reef system in the world and is one of the few places in the United States where visitors can snorkel and dive on thriving coral reefs. There are approximately 1,700 mangrove-fringed islands off the Keys that provide important habitat both above and below the surface including expansive seagrass meadows supporting an array of marine life. The sanctuary offers amazing opportunities for birders due to the many above-water nesting grounds. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a marine mammal–perhaps a manatee or a bottlenose dolphin!

Getting There

Take a trip to the Florida Keys this winter and you will find yourself surrounded by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Discover all the sanctuary has to offer with a visit to the free visitor center, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center.

If you’re traveling through Big Pine Key en route to Key West, consider a stop at the National Key Deer Refuge Visitor Center. You might see an endangered key deer, and you’ll learn more about the four National Wildlife Refuges of the Florida Keys (you can also download a brochure).

Make Sure You

Visit the sanctuary's Blue Star website if you plan to dive and snorkel while visiting the Florida Keys. There, you’ll learn about the sanctuary’s conservation program and find a list of currently recognized Blue Star operators. Operators approved by the Blue Star program commit to reducing the impact of divers and snorkelers on the coral reef ecosystem of the Florida Keys, and are committed to coral reef education. The sanctuary encourages you to book with Blue Star operators to help protect the reefs. You can also help by following sanctuary rules and taking simple steps to help minimize your impact while visiting the sanctuary.

Try This

Explore the maritime heritage of the Florida Keys. Shipwrecks, pieces of pottery, old coins and glassware are a few examples of the cultural resources you might encounter beneath the waters of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Within the sanctuary, there are many opportunities for divers and snorkelers to explore the underwater treasures of the past, including the nine ships of the Shipwreck Trail. However, like other resources in the sanctuary, cultural resources are protected and should not be disturbed or removed.

Don’t Forget

Opportunities for outdoor exploration abound in this area! Consider a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. This remote island is home to the historic and magnificent Fort Jefferson, picturesque blue waters, superlative coral reefs and marine life and a vast assortment of bird life. Most travel to the park by boat or seaplane from Key West, approximately 70 miles east of the island.

Get Started!

Before you go, read up on information that will help you make the most of your dive, snokeling expedition or day of fishing, and help protect the very resources you are there to enjoy.

Plan your visit and help NOAA ensure that you and other visitors can continue to enjoy all the warm-weather recreation that the Florida Keys have to offer.