Tom Sweets, executive director of the Key West Wildlife Center, discovered his calling by volunteering at the center, providing rescue and rehabilitative care to sick and injured wild birds. The center, located inside the 7-acre Indigenous Park on White Street, treats and rehabilitates about 1,400 wild birds and other Keys creatures each year.
The legacy of Florida Keys sculptor Stanley Papio, a pioneer of recycled art, is being celebrated on Earth Day 2023 with a colorful people-powered parade of recycled and repurposed artistic creations. The Papio Kinetic Sculpture and Art Bike Parade features sculptural floats with moving parts, decorated bicycles and other mobile works of art.
Every day brings a reason to celebrate the planet’s beauty in the Florida Keys — an area of natural wonders set against a backdrop of sea, land and sky. And this coming Earth Day, Keys visitors and residents can honor the environment with activities that include helping restore the island chain’s treasured coral reef.
If you’ve spent time in the Florida Keys, you’re aware that Keys residents are generally easygoing and friendly. But unless you want to make them cringe, don’t ever say “kontch” — because the widely-used word “conch,” despite its spelling, is properly pronounced “konk.” Especially at the upcoming birthday party for the Keys’ Conch Republic.
John Mirabella, owner of the Castaway restaurant in Marathon, could well be called the “Lionfish King” of the Florida Keys. The affable natural storyteller is known as a pioneering lionfish hunter, recognized for spearheading efforts to remove the invasive non-native species from Keys waters — and for serving the flavorful fish in numerous ways.
Most people don’t know it, but Key West played a major role in the history of international air travel. In 1927, the island was the birthplace of one-time aviation giant Pan American Airlines. Actually, its aviation heritage dates back to 1920, when the pioneering Aeromarine Airways began America’s first official international airmail service.
We do things differently in the Florida Keys. Maybe it’s because the island chain attracts individualists — fans of the eccentric. But whatever the reason, our activities and celebrations tend to have an offbeat twist that’s pure “Keys.” And nothing illustrates it better than the way we recently commemorated Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day.
Celebrate the bicentennial of the subtropical Florida Keys island chain throughout 2023, starting with the “200 Years of Paradise Kick-off Concert” and dazzling drone show Saturday, March 25, in Key West. Events salute the 200th anniversary of the Florida legislature’s founding of Monroe County, which contains the entire Keys, on July 3, 1823.
Brian Vest, founder-president of the Conch Republic Marine Army, a nonprofit organization created to restore Florida Keys marine habitats, has taken more than 4,000 volunteers to the Keys backcountry. Nearly every Saturday, groups of up to 10 volunteers commit to a five-hour experience to clear debris washed up on remote, uninhabited islands.
Conch shell blowing, a time-honored tradition, is Key West’s most indigenous form of musical expression. Every March, the island’s Conch Shell Blowing Contest draws dozens of entrants who demonstrate their “pucker power” by blowing through the conch’s fluted, pink-lined shell. The 2023 contest is set for March 4 at the Oldest House Museum.