Ever since the Florida Keys were settled two centuries ago, the island chain has been known for its residents’ adventurous seafaring spirit. Today, that spirit remains among the Keys’ most appealing attributes. And contemporary visitors can find it in museums and attractions, tales of sunken treasure and dive trips to famed shipwreck sites.
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.
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.
Fifteen young rescued sea turtles were recently released in Gulf Stream waters off Key West by a dedicated duo from the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital — and they were assisted in this worthy endeavor by members of a powerboat racing team who were on the island to compete in the sport’s world championship.
Nearly 60 years ago, Captain Gainey Maxwell conceived a way to encourage people to visit and fish Florida Keys waters — and then come back to do it again. He called it the Key West Fishing Tournament. Today, an impressive 46 backcountry and offshore species are targeted during the free-entry tournament’s eight-month span.
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.
The continental United States’ only contiguous living coral barrier reef, which parallels the Florida Keys, hosts huge populations of tropical fish and other sea creatures. The warm, clear water makes a long dive in the Keys comfortable and enjoyable. And around Halloween each year, divers can immerse themselves while actually carving pumpkins underwater!
Florida Keys residents, and others who love the island chain, are guided by a code of conduct designed to protect the region’s amazing natural environment. Its core is the 10 Keymandments — a lighthearted yet informative set of recommendations for enjoying meaningful, memorable experiences while respecting and helping to preserve the Keys’ treasured eco-realm.
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.
Shipwreck fans, treasure seekers, history buffs and those who enjoy real-life adventure tales should be in Key West Sept. 2-6. Why? To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the sinking of the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha — with members of Mel Fisher’s family and “golden crew” who discovered the wreck in 1985.