Tom Sweets, executive director of the Key West Wildlife Center, discovered his calling by volunteering at the center, providing rescue and rehabilitative care to sick and injured wild birds. The center, located inside the 7-acre Indigenous Park on White Street, treats and rehabilitates about 1,400 wild birds and other Keys creatures each year.
John Mirabella, owner of the Castaway restaurant in Marathon, could well be called the “Lionfish King” of the Florida Keys. The affable natural storyteller is known as a pioneering lionfish hunter, recognized for spearheading efforts to remove the invasive non-native species from Keys waters — and for serving the flavorful fish in numerous ways.
Brian Vest, founder-president of the Conch Republic Marine Army, a nonprofit organization created to restore Florida Keys marine habitats, has taken more than 4,000 volunteers to the Keys backcountry. Nearly every Saturday, groups of up to 10 volunteers commit to a five-hour experience to clear debris washed up on remote, uninhabited islands.
Danilo Alayon is a fifth-generation “Conch” born and raised in Key West, an avid diver, self-taught artist and proud grandson of the designer of Key West’s world-renowned Southernmost Point monument. Danilo has embraced a unique form of artistry: he converts old, nicked and rusty scuba tanks into sustainable and luminously colorful works.
Captain Matthew “Matt” Bellinger grew up in Sandy Springs, Georgia, studied marine science at the University of Tampa and traveled as a divemaster after college. Today, his company, Bamboo Charters, specializes in family fishing trips — while educating, informing and inspiring clients to learn and care about the Florida Keys’ unique marine environment.
Sunny subtropical holidays in the Florida Keys & Key West are filled with warmth and good cheer throughout the 125-mile-long island chain. From Key Largo to Key West, the 2022 holiday season features spirited events such as lighted boat parades, historic inn tours, only-in-the Keys frivolity, sparkling waterfront celebrations and other island festivities.
Summerland Key resident Dave Vaughan, founder of the Plant a Million Corals Foundation, is known worldwide for his “Eureka mistake” that led to a revolutionary coral fragmentation technique allowing the rapid growth of coral. His technique is proving to be a vital tool in restoring and protecting the Florida Keys’ living coral barrier reef.
Caitlin “Caiti” Currie, who captains Key Largo water excursions for Pirates Cove Watersports and school groups out of MarineLab at Key Largo Undersea Park, is passionate about keeping the Florida Keys’ aquamarine waters clean. Through Pirates Cove, located at Reefhouse Resort & Marina, she enjoys captaining and participating in Dive Against Debris trips.
George Bellenger, who co-founded Key West Eco Tours with wife Carla 20 years ago, believes that even a five-minute commitment helps with preserving the Keys’ natural backcountry and dense mangrove islands. The Bellengers’ backcountry eco-tours are operated from the Geiger Key Paddle Hut out of Geiger Key Marina fish camp and RV park.
Marine artist Lisa Lee Herman, owner of Gallery of the Arts Islamorada, is known throughout the Upper Keys for her gyotaku — the ancient Japanese art form for traditionally recording a catch. In fact, Herman greets her gyotaku-seeking clients, and the prized fish they want to preserve, at the dock following their angling excursions.