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.
There are a million reasons to love the Florida Keys, but without the spectacular coral reefs that surround the place, those reasons wouldn’t exist. World-renowned for unmatched beauty, with coastal waters protected within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the island chain offers underwater adventures that can be enjoyed only in the Keys.
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.
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.
Who says the fall season has to be dull and gloomy? Instead, plan an adrenaline-packed vacation in the sunny Florida Keys, and enjoy balmy temps and delightful ocean breezes while indulging in “bucket-list” adventures — like exploring the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, sportfishing or even skydiving above the island chain.
Vessels intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs serve as refuges for fish, delicate corals and invertebrates — and provide fascinating sites for divers to explore. Within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which protects the waters surrounding the entire Keys, lie nine notable wrecksites that are part of the popular Florida Keys Wreck Trek.
What are some of the best ways to keep cool on late-summer days, while also enjoying everything Key West has to offer? Consider taking an all-male snorkel and sandbar excursion, lazing at “Fort Liz Taylor Beach,” discovering the story of Key West’s most famous LGBTQ resident, or comfortably chilling at a guesthouse pool.
Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is a Minnesota native whose impressive career as a marine scientist has spanned the country. Not only has she conducted more than 600 dives in sanctuary waters, she also holds a Coast Guard 100-ton master captain’s license and is a certified submersible pilot.
Captain Samantha “Sam” Zeher operates KeyZ Charters, an eco-tour operation specializing in wildlife tours out of Islamorada’s popular Robbie’s Marina. Offerings include sightseeing excursions with birdwatching and sunset viewing and Islamorada–area island trips that explore Indian Key, Lignumvitae Key and Alligator Lighthouse — each with a history dating back to the 1800s.
Captain Coleen Fitzsimmons recently launched Island Vibe Charters to introduce small groups and families to the Florida Keys waters and fascinating ecosystem during reef snorkeling and sandbar excursions. Coleen, who has two children with her wife, is passionate about sharing the Keys world, unique way of life and environmental wonders with charter passengers.