Connect with Keys Life
Immerse yourself in the nature of the Florida Keys. Let it change you.
Connect with one of the Keys’ “natural resources” — the friendly, easygoing people who live here.
With the Keys’ funky hotspots, close-to-nature lifestyle and lively arts community, locals choose to embrace a laid-back vibe and culture and make it their own.
When you open yourself to chatting with Florida Keys residents, seeking their insights and recommendations for off-the-beaten-path adventures, you can immerse yourself in the Keys and forge a lasting connection with the colorful, magical islands.
Vacation Like a Local: Make the Keys Connection
The Florida Keys & Key West aren't just another vacation destination where you arrive, soak up some sun on a pretty beach, maybe do a little shopping or take a sightseeing tour, sample the local cuisine and depart, essentially unchanged, after a few days. In fact, rather than being a typical "tourist," you can practically become a temporary local — enjoying a vacation experience that fills your senses and leaves you feeling vibrantly alive. Read more
Meet some of the quirky, creative, genuinely friendly residents who weave eco-consciousness into their everyday lives — protecting wildlife, eating local foods, supporting fishermen, reducing plastic waste and giving back to their island communities.
Each month our Keys Traveler e-Newsletter spotlights a “steward of the Keys.” Learn their stories and find out about their lives, work, passions and reasons for loving the island chain and proactively preserving it.
Mike Goldberg: Steward of Islamorada’s Coral Reef
The life that Mike Goldberg — co-founder of I.CARE and owner of Islamorada’s Key Dives — created in the Florida Keys is a long way from his previous life as a Bear Stearns money manager, raising $100 million a year. Goldberg and marine biologist Kylie Smith, a Florida Wildlife Commission scientist, spearheaded the founding of I.CARE, the Keys’ newest and the only Islamorada-based reef restoration organization, in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Read full story
Allyson Gantt: Steward of the Keys’ National Parks
Allyson Gantt inspires others to care for the Florida Keys’ two national parks and their unique environments. A National Park Service ranger for over 25 years, she directs communications and public affairs for Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks — and is overseeing a year of activities for Everglades National Park’s upcoming 75th anniversary. Read full story
Jordan Budnik: Steward of the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center
Jordan Budnik is the executive director of the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Tavernier, a nonprofit facility that takes in over 900 native birds in need of rehabilitation every year. Driven by a lifelong fascination with avian species, she’s passionate about advocating for wildlife and encouraging people to protect the environment. Read full story
Harry Appel: Steward of the Keys’ Endangered Wildlife
Harry Appel co-owns Big Pine Key’s eco-friendly, boutique Deer Run on the Atlantic, the Keys’ only “Four-Palm” Green Lodging Property — a designation earned for a steadfast commitment to protecting natural resources. An avid animal activist, he’s president of the nonprofit Save-A-Turtle of the Florida Keys and is a Key Deer Protection Alliance advisor. Read full story
Jeanne Selander: Steward of the Florida Keys Sheriff’s Animal Farm
For 15 years Jeanne Selander has overseen the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm on Stock Island — believed to be the only facility of its kind on jailhouse property in the United States — and the care of 150 exotic creatures. Her “charges” include an ostrich, lemurs, kinkajous, bearded dragons and 17-year-old Mo the Sloth. Read full story
Sarah Fangman: Steward of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is a Minnesota native whose impressive career as a marine scientist has spanned the country. Not only has she conducted more than 600 dives in sanctuary waters, she also holds a Coast Guard 100-ton master captain’s license and is a certified submersible pilot. Read full story
Samantha Zeher: Steward of Islamorada’s Wildlife
Captain Samantha “Sam” Zeher operates KeyZ Charters, an eco-tour operation specializing in wildlife tours out of Islamorada’s popular Robbie’s Marina. Offerings include sightseeing excursions with birdwatching and sunset viewing and Islamorada–area island trips that explore Indian Key, Lignumvitae Key and Alligator Lighthouse — each with a history dating back to the 1800s. Read full story
Elena Muratori: Steward of the Upper Keys’ State Parks
In May 2021, Elena Muratori celebrated 25 years with the Florida Park Service. With two decades of working at John Pennekamp Coral Reef and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical state parks, she’s one of the longest-serving stewards at any Florida Keys state park. And she’s deeply dedicated to restoring and preserving natural resources. Read full story
Rob Oliverio: Steward of the Keys’ Backcountry
Rob Oliverio traded life as a road warrior — a corporate manager launching House of Blues openings in Boston, New Orleans and Los Angeles — for life as an eco-entrepreneur and owner of Key West’s Mellow Ventures. Today he’s focused on helping visitors learn to appreciate, respect and protect the beauty of the Keys. Read full story
Kelly Grinter: Steward of Keys Wild Birds
Kelly Grinter estimates that she’s rescued and released more than 20,000 injured birds since she founded the Marathon Wild Bird Center in 1995. The sanctuary at Crane Point Hammock Museum and Nature Center has 11 habitats, about 40 permanent residents — including Oliver the osprey and Mr. Black-Bellied Plover — and staffer Grinter and volunteers. Read full story
Dan Davis: Steward of Environmental Artistry
Florida Keys artist Dan Davis, owner of the online Florida Keys Ocean Gallery, uses the ancient Japanese art of gyotaku to create prints from fish he catches in Keys waters. He also educates art lovers about the need to preserve local waters that are home to a vast array of prized game fish. Read full story
Misha McRAE: Steward of a Rare Botanical Garden
As executive director of the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, former ballet danseur Misha McRAE is preparing to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the 15-acre subtropical treasure. Described as the continental United States' only frost-free tropical forest and botanical garden, the enchanted spot has been his passion since the late 1990s. Read full story
Kelly McKinnon: Steward of Historic Pigeon Key
Kelly McKinnon, executive director of the Pigeon Key Foundation, is one of four residents of the historic island beneath the Middle Keys' Old Seven Mile Bridge. The 5-acre Pigeon Key once housed laborers building the 1900s-era Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, and McKinnon is committed to its sustainability and future as a cultural attraction. Read full story
Those who love the Keys form personal connections to the unique environment. Watch videos below and “meet” some of these stewards of the Florida Keys’ natural world:
Billy Litmer, Honest Eco Tours
Roxane Boonstra, Coral Restoration Foundation
Capt. Will Benson, Fishing Guide
Bette Zirkelbach, Turtle Hospital
Bill Keogh, Kayak Tour Guide
Bring the Florida Keys home with you! Find uniquely island-style wares at: