New Florida Keys & Key West ‘Connect & Protect’ campaign promotes sustainable tourism experiences and behaviour
The Florida Keys & Key West tourism council is inviting visitors and industry partners to help preserve the Keys island chain’s natural resources with a new ‘Connect & Protect’ awareness campaign.
The subtropical island chain is home to the continental USA’s only living coral barrier reef. A total of 2,900 square nautical miles of waters and submerged lands surrounding the Keys are protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, including John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first underwater park. Other protected habitats include the National Key Deer Refuge, home to the tiny Key deer found only in the Lower Keys.
‘Connect & Protect’ encourages visitors to discover the Keys through experiential and soft adventure activities, as well as fostering a greater understanding of how they can help in preserving the 125-mile island chain’s unique natural environment.
“The more our visitors understand before even arriving in the Keys, the more they can do to ensure their choices play an active part in helping to protect our natural resources,” said Stacey Mitchell, director of marketing for the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council.
“We are asking our tour operator and travel agent partners for their support to advise their clients about how they can share our commitment to sustainability while having meaningful, memorable vacations.”
Visitors can connect with and help to protect the Keys in the following ways:
- Learn as much as possible about the Keys’ natural environment and why its preservation is important. The official Florida Keys & Key West tourism website has useful information on discovering the destination in a sustainable, eco-friendly way: see fla-keys.com/eco-tourism and https://fla-keys.com/green-travel/. More information on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary can be found at https://floridakeys.noaa.gov/visitor_information/.
- Choose a reef-friendly sunscreen product. In a warm-weather climate skin protection is essential, but many widely used sunscreens contain chemicals that harm coral reefs. As international travellers tend to buy sunscreen before departure, the Florida Keys tourism council encourages them to research and choose a reef-friendly product after booking their vacation. Reef-friendly brands include Stream2Sea, Thinksport, All Good, Badger and Raw Love.
Discovering the Florida Keys
- Explore the low-impact way. Kayak the tranquil backcountry waters of the Lower Keys, paddleboard in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park or explore the island city of Key West by bike. Many environmentally friendly ways to get active while getting around can be found throughout the Florida Keys.
- Go diving, snorkelling or fishing with a ‘Blue Star’ operator. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has established its own programme recognising operators committed to promoting responsible and sustainable diving, snorkelling or fishing trips. More than 30 such ‘Blue Star’ operators provide unforgettable experiences, with options available in all five Keys districts: https://floridakeys.noaa.gov/onthewater/bluestar.html.
- Visit a wildlife rescue centre. The Florida Keys are home to some notable efforts to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured wildlife. The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Key Largo (keepthemflying.org) provides a natural protected refuge for hindered birds that cannot safely be returned to the wild. In Marathon, the world-famous Turtle Hospital (www.turtlehospital.org) looks after sea turtles whose injuries typically result from encounters with man or man-made objects, nursing them back to health. Visitors who get lucky with their timing might just be privileged enough to see one of the residents released back into the sea!
- Play your part in reef restoration. The Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo offers regular day programmes enabling locals and visitors to take an active role in protecting and enhancing the Florida Keys reef. Run in conjunction with dive operators, programmes typically begin with an educational and training session before certified divers head out to the reef for ‘outplanting’ of new corals, kick-starting the reef’s natural process of recovery. Check available dates at coralrestoration.org/dive-programs and make contact well in advance.
“Florida Keys residents consider ourselves stewards of priceless natural resources, and we practise a culture of conservation in our daily lives,” said Mitchell. “With ‘Connect & Protect,’ we are inviting our visitors to join us.”
The Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo growing new coral at its undersea nurseries_Credit Kevin Gaines