Florida Keys visitors can discover a place embracing sustainability and the preservation of environmental wonders, filled with hammocks and rainforest areas, sandy beaches and on-the-water relaxation, and unique opportunities for world-class bird watching. Whether on land or water, the Keys’ natural world provides the rejuvenation that comes from time spent outdoors.
Mark Hedden, executive director of the Florida Keys Audubon Society and artist-in-residence at The Studios of Key West, is perhaps the Keys’ best known “bird man.” A self-taught photographer acclaimed for his recent “South of Southernmost” exhibit, he hopes to use his creative artistry to inspire others to discover the Keys’ natural world.
Every day is an adventure in the Florida Keys, where the subtropical climate and scenic natural settings create the perfect backdrop for intriguing eco-activities — such as exploring mangrove wilderness, tropical hardwood hammocks and rainforest areas, or diving a protected underwater park. Upper Keys visitors can enjoy unplugged experiences from bird watching to “voluntourism.”
The Florida Keys offer scores of earth- and sea-friendly options for visitors to enjoy, guided by residents who cherish their close-to-nature lifestyle and strive to preserve it. They include sustainable fishing and dive charter operators, coral restoration innovators, trailblazers in “voluntourism,” wildlife rehabilitation experts and leaders of eco-tours and cultural excursions.
Ken Nedimyer, an Upper Keys–based director of Reef Renewal Foundation International, is globally recognized as a father of reef restoration, creating strategies to rebuild coral reefs around the world. He oversees three coral nurseries in the Keys — off Tavernier, Big Pine Key and Marathon — that house 21 coral species with 1,000 genotypes.
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.
The largest shipwreck available for sport diving in the Lower Keys remains a popular stop on the Florida Keys Wreck Trek for divers, and a relatively easy introduction to wreck diving for novices. The 210-foot-long Adolphus Busch, sunk intentionally in 1998, lies between Looe Key and American Shoal, southwest of Big Pine Key.
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.
Harry Appel co-owns Big Pine Key’s eco-friendly, boutique Deer Run on the Atlantic, the Florida 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.
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.