As the Florida Keys ease into summer, we’re continuing our “Connect & Protect” initiative to encourage awareness of sustainable opportunities and memorable activities for visitors. Here are five points to boost your eco-awareness and inspire positive actions.

Connect & Protect Florida KeysONE: Will you take the #PlasticFreeJuly challenge this year? Help protect the oceans, reduce your eco footprint and avoid landfill waste. How? Commit to one week, or the whole month of July, and avoid (or ask for reusable alternatives to) single-use plastic packaging/bags and plastic or styrofoam takeaway items like bags, bottles, straws and coffee cups.

Throughout July, look for daily Keys tips here. They’ll include info on where to join a beach or park cleanup, enjoying a plastic-free picnic at the beach, Keys eco-hotels and tours — plus where you can find cool reusable Keys cups and alternatives for straws and plastic bags. Take the personal challenge!

TWO: Boating in the Florida Keys can be complicated if you’re a first-time visitor or boater new to navigating the islands’ surrounding shallow waters. The sustained health of the Keys’ precious environment is vital, and disturbance or direct impacts — including damage by boat propellers, groundings, turbidity and water quality — are major contributing factors to declines in habitat essential for birds, fish and other animals.

People who dive or snorkel from their own boats should use reef mooring buoys instead of dropping an anchor. Anchoring is forbidden at many dive and snorkel sites.

To better understand boating and watercraft impacts, check out a free online boater education course developed by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It provides information about responsible boating and stewardship, and highlights relevant rules and regulations.

THREE: On Big Pine Key, the new Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center is opening at 30587 Overseas Highway near mile marker 30.5. With more than 1,800 square feet of exhibition space, the visitor center showcases the Keys’ four national wildlife refuges: National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake.

FYI, the National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957 to protect and preserve the miniature Key deer and other Keys wildlife resources, celebrated its 60th anniversary in December 2017. It’s well worth a visit!

FOUR: The Florida Reef Tract is the one of the largest barrier reef systems in the world and the only barrier reef in the continental United States. On June 8, during the fifth annual Coralpalooza™ event, 250 Florida Keys participants returned a total of 1,760 corals to this precious reef tract — more corals than have been outplanted during any previous Coralpalooza.

Coral restoration Florida Keys

An employee from the Coral Restoration Foundation works underwater in the organization’s coral nursery. (Photo by Tim Grollimund, Florida Keys News Bureau)

On World Oceans Day in early June every year, Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation takes out an army of ocean lovers to actively restore reefs in the Florida Keys and beyond.

There are many ways you can get involved with the foundation — whether through joining a dive program, becoming a volunteer, making a donation or engaging in education programs. And sign up here to receive CRF’s “First Alert” to register for the sixth annual Coralpalooza in 2020.

FIVE: In a unique demonstration of eco-conscious generosity, longtime Key West resident David Wolkowsky — a well-known and impactful public figure, developer, philanthropist and visionary — donated his Ballast Key, a 14-acre island located in the clear blue and vibrant waters 8 miles west of Key West, shortly before his passing in September 2018 at age 99.

The parcel will forever be protected through the commitment of the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The island is home to many imperiled and endangered species of native plants and wildlife. And the shallow waters that surround Ballast Key teem with inhabitants of a healthy coral reef ecosystem, including threatened and endangered sea turtles.

That makes Mr. Wolkowsky’s remarkable donation a win-win for the Keys environment, the species that live within it, and everyone who loves it — now and in the future.