Experience a green vacation in the Florida Keys! Every part of the Keys has unique eco-attractions for each member of your family. Some of these activities in the Keys are listed below.
In addition to a catch-and-release ethic of sportfishing, world-class diving and a rich literary and artistic community, the Florida Keys offer an appealing variety of public parks and environmentally oriented eco-attractions, whether it is swimming side by side with a dolphin, walking among thousands of butterflies, navigating through tropical forests and botanical gardens or visiting a conservation area to observe the unique protected animal species in their natural habitat.
Parks & Recreation Sites are abundant in the Florida Keys, and span all five regions.
Preservation Museums include Museum of Art & History at the Customs House, Lighthouse & Keepers Quarters Museum, Fort East Martello Museum & Gardens, Pigeon Key Foundation & Marine Science Center, The Oldest House, West Martello Town and Key West Garden Club.
The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is the only “frost-free” botanical garden in the continental United States. It is home to many endangered and threatened flora and fauna. The Key West Forest & Garden is a special place where you can appreciate biodiversity and learn more about its importance. For instance, the forest has two of the last remaining fresh water ponds in the Keys and is a major migratory stopping point for neo-tropical birds from places as far as South America, as well as being home to many rare birds in the Florida Keys.
Other highlights include:
To protect a portion of the Florida Keys’ barrier reef, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established off the Upper Keys in 1963 as America’s first underwater preserve. The park hosts more than a million visitors annually, offering them numerous opportunities to observe abundant wildlife through recreational and educational experiences.
Pennekamp is incorporated into the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, widely regarded as a national treasure, which was established in 1990 by the United States government. The sanctuary encompasses 2,800 square nautical miles of coastal and oceanic waters and submerged lands. Not only does this area surround the entire landmass of the Florida Keys, it also includes vast stretches of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The creation of the sanctuary allows for the management of the region’s special ecological, historical, recreational and aesthetic resources. Within its boundaries lie mangrove islands, historic shipwrecks filled with rare artifacts, tropical fish and other marine life. Environmental enthusiasts can volunteer in the protection and preservation of the sanctuary.
The Marathon Wild Bird Center is one of the leading wild bird rescue centers in the Florida Keys, nestled in 64 acres of lush hardwoods as part of Crane Point Hammock. Tavernier’s Florida Keys Wild Bird Centre, the northernmost of the eco-attractions, is also a haven for bird lovers, a labor of love of Laura Quinn, affectionately known as the “Bird Lady,” who founded and runs the centre.
Each facility’s primary purpose is to rescue, rehabilitate and release ill, injured and orphaned wild birds. Boardwalks and nature paths wind through shaded cages that house wild hawks, ospreys, spoonbills, egrets and more. Some are there to recuperate and will later be released, while others would be unable to survive in the wild on their own and have become lifelong inhabitants.
|Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key is a research and educational facility that’s home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. The center and its staff, winners of numerous awards, specialize in behavioral research and maintain liaisons with university research programs and independent scientists around the world. Visitors to the center can participate in enjoyable and educational programs that provide knowledge and insights about dolphins, their environment and their remarkable abilities. Through a number concepts research study, researchers discovered that the marine mammals could identify simple math and distinguish the difference between numbers they were presented on a board.|
Well known for dolphin-assisted therapy programs provided to children with special physical and emotional needs, the nonprofit Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo also features marine science educational programs.
|Marathon’s Turtle Hospital, is the only facility of its kind in the world. At the hospital, opened in 1986, founder Richie Moretti and his staff treat injured sea turtles and, when possible, return them to the wild. Educational tours of the facility are offered to introduce visitors to the resident sea turtles and to the hospital’s curative programs for loggerhead, green, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley turtles. The hospital’s goals include working toward environmental legislation to make beaches and oceans safer and cleaner for sea turtles.|
|The Key West National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1908 in response to a fashion trend that was decimating migratory bird populations, then-President Theodore Roosevelt created this first wildlife refuge of the Florida Keys to protect and preserve a breeding ground for migratory species.|
|The Lower Keys are home to the National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957 to protect and preserve habitats for wildlife, most notably the diminutive Key deer. A subspecies of the Virginia white-tailed deer, Key deer range in size from 45 to 80 pounds fully grown.
The refuge encompasses more than 8,000 acres of prime Key deer territory ranging from Bahia Honda Key to the eastern shores of Sugarloaf Key, out to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. It also is a stopping point for thousands of migratory birds each year, and a winter home for many North American bird species including the roseate tern and peregrine falcon.
|The Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1938, provides safe nesting and breeding areas for great white herons and other migratory birds and wildlife. White herons are North America’s largest wading bird and, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are found only in the Florida Keys and on the South Florida mainland. Stretching between Key West and Marathon, the refuge features more than 375 square miles of open water and islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Visitors’ primary access is by kayak, canoe or shallow-draft boat, although the refuge manages lands on Upper Sugarloaf and Lower Sugarloaf Keys that are accessible by car.|
|Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center Located on the Key West waterfront at Truman Annex, the 6,400-square-foot center showcases the underwater and upland habitats that characterize the Keys, with an emphasis on North America’s only living contiguous barrier coral reef that parallels the island chain. The Living Reef Exhibit features a 2,400-gallon reef tank with fish and invertebrates indigenous to the Keys, and interactive and touch-screen modules, text and audio/video components showcase stellar underwater footage about the vibrant Keys ecosystem and reef. Learn about the environment and cultural resources in the Keys through Discovery Saturdays.|
|Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote offshore preserve that lies approximately 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The park contains the Civil War-era Fort Jefferson, believed to be the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Dry Tortugas is the largest no-take marine reserve in the continental United States. Snorkelers, divers, boaters and researchers enjoy a pristine marine environment while protecting the region’s important coral reef habitat. The park is divided into a historic preservation zone where visitors can enjoy guided tours, diving, recreational fishing and other activities; a managed natural/cultural zone offering solitude and activities such as swimming, diving and recreational fishing; the protected Research Natural Area, where boaters can enjoy the environmental richness while preserving marine resources; and special protection zones for areas requiring protection from human impact. Dry Tortugas National Park can be accessed via ferry or by private vessel.|
These are some of my favorite experiences in the Florida Keys. If you’re coming down to visit and stay with us at the KeysCaribbean Luxury Resorts & Marinas in our vacation rentals, share some of your favorite experiences with us …
Visit our blog next Tuesday with updated expereriences in the Florida Keys…