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Spotlight: Visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Spotlight: Visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

An inviting climate and underwater treasures await you.

Snorkeling FL The warm turquoise waters of the Keys are full of life and perfect for snorkeling and diving.(Florida Keys NMS)

What You’ll Find

Chances are that if you are in the Florida Keys, and you plan to get in the water, you will be within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary protects waters surrounding the archipelago (island group) that makes up the Keys, extending south from Biscayne National Park and westward to the Dry Tortugas islands.

From mysterious shipwrecks to colorful corals, the warm waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are brimming with a rich diversity of our country’s underwater treasures. The sanctuary protects the third largest living coral barrier reef system in the world and an estimated 1,000 shipwrecks. Visitors can take to land or sea to explore the maritime history and lively marine life here in southeast Florida.

Getting There

The Florida Keys are linked to the mainland by U.S. Route 1, the Overseas Highway. Visitors can fly directly to Key West, or can fly into major airports such as Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and take a shuttle bus or car to the Keys. With many marinas to choose from, sailing to the area is also an option.

Stay Here

The sanctuary boundary starts at the water’s edge (the mean high water mark, to be exact!) and therefore, does not encompass hotels or campgrounds. Although it does not offer lodging, both private and state park campgrounds are available in the Keys including the beautiful beaches of Bahia Honda State Park. With rental cabins and RV and tent camping available, spend your day snorkeling and your evening watching an incredible sunset – all near your campsite!

Limited and primitive camping is available at Dry Tortugas National Park and well worth the effort. Stargazing from this sandy location with waves lapping nearby makes for a one-of-a-kind camping experience.

Make Sure You

Get outside and discover recreational diving, snorkeling, fishing, wildlife viewing and boating opportunities, all available throughout the area. Some of the sanctuary’s highlights include:

  • The Shipwreck Trail: Scattered among the coral reefs are nine historical shipwrecks. These ships have become unique marine habitats and provide a window into our country’s rich maritime heritage. Be sure to book your dive or snorkel trip with a Blue Star Certified operator!
  • Dolphin SMART Tours: There are several charters operating wild dolphin viewing tours within the Florida Keys, particularly in Key West. Visit the Dolphin SMART website and check the updated operator list to select a tour where you can experience the thrill of seeing dolphins in a responsible, environmentally-friendly way.

Don’t Forget

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is hot in the summer and warm in the winter, so bring light clothes, a hat and plenty of sunscreen.

To help preserve the resources of the Florida Keys for current and future generations, learn how to engage in responsible recreational activities.

Get Started

Visit the Eco-Discovery Center and explore interactive exhibits that will take guests on a journey into the Florida Keys marine community. Be sure to check out the Mote Marine Laboratory Living Reef exhibit, which includes a 2,500-gallon (9,463.5 liters) reef tank with living corals and tropical fish and a live Reef Cam! Guests will leave with a sense of awe about the intricate coral ecosystem as well as an appreciation for the efforts made to conserve and protect the area.

Did You Know?

While it is often the animals that capture the imagination of visitors to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, seagrass also plays a crucial role in the local ecosystem and economy. An estimated 2.7 million acres (1,092,651 ha) of seagrass meadows grow along Florida's extensive coastline and protect bays and lagoons. These habitats are essential as fish nursery areas and damage to seagrass beds from boat propellers can severely restrict the movement of marine wildlife. This can create barren areas where fish and other species once flourished. When boating, do your part to protect this important resource by following these safe boating tips.