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.
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.
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.