Every day brings a reason to celebrate the beauty of the planet in the Florida Keys — because the region is full of natural wonders set against the backdrop of sea, land and sky.
Remote Dry Tortugas National Park, made up of tiny coral-and-sand islands, lies 70 miles west of Key West and is one of the Florida Keys’ greatest natural wonders. (Photo by Laurence Norah, Florida Keys News Bureau)
The waters surrounding the island chain, home to the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, are protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. And they’re a paradise for divers and snorkelers.
The Keys also encompass 10 welcoming state parks, two national parks — remote and breathtaking Dry Tortugas National Park and the Flamingo district of Everglades National Park — and four federally protected havens that shelter miniature deer, birds and other wild creatures: the National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake national wildlife refuges.
Both before and on Saturday, April 22, Keys visitors and residents can commemorate Earth Day’s significance with a wide range of activities. Consider these three highlights:
ONE: In the Lower Keys, Captain Hook’s (29675 Overseas Highway) on Big Pine Key is teaming up with Reef Renewal USA for a three-day immersive “Make a Difference” citizen science initiative leading up to Earth Day — and it’s designed so divers can gain knowledge while actively assisting in reef restoration. The program begins with a Coral Fragging Party set for April 20-22 to study and participate in fragmenting corals into small pieces for widespread propagation.
Two visitors to the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada listen to narration showcasing dozens of historic dive helmets. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Divers can then suit up April 22 for an Earth Day Coral Nursery Dive to work on “coral tree” development and planting. If you’re interested in either the coral fragmentation or dive experiences (or both), please call Captain Hook’s at 305-872-9836 to schedule exact times for the coral activity and details about the coral nursery dive. Both events are free of charge.
TWO: For visitors in the Middle Keys, Islamorada’s History of Diving Museum, NASA and Coastlove are hosting an action-packed Earth Day event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 22 at Marathon International Airport (9850 Overseas Highway). NASA earth scientists will be on hand to talk about their climate work in South Florida aboard the agency’s Blueflux carbon-monitoring aircraft — and they’ll offer tours inside the plane so attendees can see the monitoring instruments used for climate and environmental research.
The History of Diving Museum plans to have displays of vintage dive gear and information about the heritage of diving in the Florida Keys. Other exhibitors are to include the National Park Service and Florida International University. Plus, to emphasize the connection between mangrove trees (which absorb atmospheric carbon) and the health of the Keys’ reefs and marine ecosystems, environmental organization Coastlove and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission have scheduled a nearby coastal cleanup and mangrove planting experience. The event is free, but reservations are requested — especially by those participating in mangrove planting.
Staff from the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital lower a juvenile green sea turtle to the beach to be released into the Atlantic Ocean on a previous Earth Day. (Photo by Mariela Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)
THREE: Earth Day enthusiasts can celebrate Saturday, April 22, with the Florida Keys–based Turtle Hospital by witnessing a planned sea turtle release at Islamorada’s Islander Resort (mile marker 82 oceanside). The Turtle Hospital “ambulance” will arrive at 9:30 a.m. and the turtle will be released back into its ocean home at 10 a.m. It’s a rare privilege to watch a rehabilitated turtle return to its natural habitat — so follow the hospital’s Facebook page for additional details about the release.
The Turtle Hospital, by the way, is well worth a visit on Earth Day or any day. A licensed veterinary hospital dedicated to the treatment of sea turtles, it was opened in 1986 with the goal of healing injured sea turtles and returning them to the wild. The extraordinary facility is located at 2396 Overseas Highway in Marathon, and visitors can take guided educational tours and meet the “patients” in the outdoor rehabilitation area.
If you’re interested in discovering additional ways to observe Earth Day in the close-to-nature Florida Keys, just click here.