Marine artist Lisa Lee Herman, owner of Gallery of the Arts Islamorada, is known throughout the Upper Keys for her gyotaku — the ancient Japanese art form for traditionally recording a catch. In fact, Herman greets her gyotaku-seeking clients, and the prized fish they want to preserve, at the dock following their angling excursions.
Erin Muir, a sixth-generation Upper Keys native, is descended from two founding Florida Keys families — the Albury and Lowe families that settled in the Keys in the 1860s — whose roots run as deep as those of the island chain’s shoreline mangroves. Now, Erin is Mote Marine Laboratory’s newly named Upper Keys engagement manager.
Autumn Blum, founder of Stream2Sea skin and body care products, is a part-time Key Largo resident, avid diver and cosmetic chemist who developed sunscreen products proven safe for saltwater and freshwater fish and coral larvae. With Reef Renewal USA, she’s leading a “Crazy for Coral” mission to plant 10,000 corals by July 31.
Florida Keys visitors can join residents in becoming stewards of the island chain’s world-renowned coral reef ecosystem. Environmental enthusiasts can aid in reef restoration in the Keys, giving back to the living, dynamic underwater ecosystem. They can also benefit the underwater world by following responsible reef protection tips during their Keys vacations.
Captain Dave Dipre, Marathon-based operational captain with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Law Enforcement, oversees operations from Key Largo to Key West. His love of the Keys, and his sense of environmental responsibility, run as deep as the 125-mile-long island chain’s waters that he’s charged with protecting.
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.
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.
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.