FLORIDA KEYS — With the global “Protect Our Species” theme for Earth Day 2019, it’s easy to participate in a variety of meaningful, memorable activities to “Connect & Protect” in the rich natural environment of the Florida Keys & Key West.
On Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys, there’s a new Keys attraction to visit that spotlights unique and eco-sensitive federally protected wildlife refuges.
The new Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center, with 1,500 square feet of exhibition space, is scheduled to open in late March or early April. The center is to showcase the Keys’ four unique national wildlife refuges: National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake. The new center is located at 30587 Overseas Highway near mile marker 30.5. Visit fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/ or call 305-872-0774.
Earth Day, now in its 49th year, is Monday, April 22. Among celebratory Earth Day–related eco-activities throughout the Florida Keys:
Reef Environmental Educational Foundation (REEF) is to celebrate Earth Day Tuesday, April 23, with a 4-7 p.m. event at the organization’s headquarters, 98300 Overseas Highway in Key Largo. Keys organizations are to host booths, sharing messages about conservation and how to practice healthy living and environmental protection. The event includes a seminar on sustainable living and marine conservation. Participants riding a bike or walking to the event and bringing a reusable cup are to receive a free raffle ticket for a chance to win a prize basket. Email reefhq@REEF.org or call 305-852-0030.
The Village of Islamorada and community organizations are to present the documentary film, “A Plastic Ocean” Thursday, April 11, at 5:30 p.m. at Founders Park Community Center, 87000 Overseas Highway. Prior to the screening, a “lead by example” business expo highlighting alternatives to Styrofoam and plastic products is scheduled from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on the park’s great lawn. “A Plastic Ocean” illustrates the devastating impacts and consequences of disposable global lifestyles. Event sponsors include Reef Relief, Florida Keys Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the University of Florida’s Monroe County Extension Office and Islamorada Chamber of Commerce. Seating is limited to 90 and registration is requested; the event is free. Call Mary at the Village of Islamorada at 305-664-6411.
In Marathon, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is to offer “Go Green and Save Green” special-value tickets for encounter experiences Monday, April 22. Visitors can immerse themselves in a 200,000-plus-gallon saltwater tank in a Coral Reef Regulator or certified dive experience priced from $99 per person. A Coral Reef Snorkel experience is priced from $89 per person. Participants can interact with stingrays in Stingray Cove Encounters priced from $45 per person. The aquarium offers guided tours and animal feedings throughout the day. “Green” encounters can be prebooked. Rates exclude taxes and are valid only on Earth Day. Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is located at 11710 Overseas Highway. Visit FloridaKeysAquariumEncounters.com or call 305-407-3262.
Keys Cable at OTHErside Boardsports on Grassy Key is sponsoring a two-day Earth Day Festival Saturday and Sunday, April 27-28, encompassing “all things good for the Earth and good from the Earth.” Activities are to include healthy food offerings, live music, a fashion show with eco-friendly clothing, earth-focused pop-up shops, solar-powered wakeboarding and live mural installations painted with a common theme: “Human Effects on the Environment.” Activities are to include mangrove cleanups and wildflower planting. Participants should bring their own drinking cups. The park is located at 59300 Overseas Highway. Visit KeysCable.com/events or call 305-414-8245.
On Grassy Key, Dolphin Research Center is to sponsor its annual Tom’s Harbor Bridge Cleanup and Earth Day Celebration on a date to be announced. Volunteers can collect and remove discarded trash, monofilament fishing line and other debris at Tom's Harbor Bridge at mile marker 62. Founded in 1984, the nonprofit Dolphin Research Center specializes in marine mammal education and research programs. Home to bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions, the center is located at 58901 Overseas Highway at mile marker 59. Visit dolphins.org, contact email@example.com or call 305-289-1121.
The Florida Keys Wildlife Society, the official “friends group” for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges, is hosting a full moon kayak excursion into the National Key Deer Refuge Wednesday, April 17, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. off Big Pine Key. Sponsored by Big Pine Kayak Adventures, the excursion takes paddlers under the Old Wooden Bridge to No Name Key along the mangrove shoreline. A $25 donation includes kayak, gear and skilled guide. No kayak experience is required. The tour departs from 1791 Bogey Road on Big Pine Key. Visit floridakeyswildlifesociety.org or call 305-872-0645 or 305-731-6362.
The 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park, located in the Lower Keys at mile marker 36.8, is to host its annual Earth Day Celebration Day Saturday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The family-friendly event features environmental craft activities. The park is one of the Florida Keys’ most popular camping and recreation areas with deep near-shore waters for swimming and snorkeling, picnicking areas, watersports, a marina and rental cabins. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/bahia-honda-state-park or call the Bahia Honda Sand and Sea Nature Center at 305-872-9807.
The Key West Aquarium is to offer Earth Day activities including scavenger hunts, crafts and coloring pages for young guests Sunday, April 7, and Monday, April 22. One of Key West’s oldest attractions, the aquarium plans to highlight Earth Day Network’s theme of “Protecting Our Species” through a focus on coral reefs. Children can touch small sea creatures and interact with them through a touch tank. Key West Aquarium is located at 1 Whitehead St. Visit keywestaquarium.com or call 305-296-2051.
Mote Marine Laboratory’s Ocean Fest: A Community Celebration is slated for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 13, to celebrate the unique marine environment of the Florida Keys island chain. The free-admission event is to be held at Key West’s Truman Waterfront Park. Attendees can explore conservation and environmental exhibits, experience touch tanks, meet live marine animals, hear insights from Mote scientists and researchers, view and purchase works by local marine artists and craftspeople, and rock to live music. Marine life artist Wyland is to paint with attending children and auction his work to support the Keys’ underwater environment. Attendees are encouraged to discover the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, a visitor facility for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, located adjacent to the park at 35 E. Quay Road. Ocean Fest proceeds benefit coral restoration efforts by Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration on Summerland Key. Visit moteoceanfest.org or call 305-509-9141.
The 23nd Annual Earth Day 5k Run Walk Key West, sponsored by the Florida Keys Wildlife Society, the friends group for the National Wildlife Refuges of the Florida Keys, is set for 8 a.m. Saturday, April 20, at McCoy Indigenous Park. Participants can preregister and pick up packets 5-7 p.m. Friday, April 19, at the park, located at 1801 White St. Cost is $15 to preregister and $20 on race day for adults, and $10 and $15 for kids 13 and under. The first 100 registrants get a free race T-shirt and chocolate chip cookies await winners. Proceeds benefit the Florida Keys Wildlife Society. The event is co-sponsored by Key West Southernmost Runners Club. Visit floridakeyswildlifesociety.org/earth-day-5k or call 305-731-6362.
In Key West, revelers age 21 and older can celebrate Earth Day by remembering songs from the Age of Aquarius. The “Earth Day with That Hippie Band” concert is Monday, April 22, at Key West Theater, 512 Eaton St., with tickets priced from $20 to $40 per person. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. Band leader Gary Hempsey & That Hippie Band are to play old favorites from the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jefferson Starship and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Visit thekeywesttheater.com or call 305-985-0433.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is to celebrate Earth Day in Key West with a noninvasive scavenger hunt 9-10 a.m. Monday, April 22. Visitors are encouraged to bring a smart phone or camera and a sense of adventure to explore the park’s native trails, fort and beach to search for specific plants, animals and unique “biomes” (large natural communities of flora and fauna occupying habitats such as forests) in the southernmost state park in the continental United States. Fort Taylor was completed in 1866 as one of a series of forts built in the mid-1800s to defend the nation’s southeastern coastline. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is located at 601 Howard England Way. Visit floridastateparks.org/park/Fort-Taylor or call 305-292-6713.
Throughout the Keys
Nearly 150 businesses throughout the Keys have partnered with Reef Relief for a Straw-Less Florida Keys to say “no” to plastic straws in a “Skip the Straw!” campaign. Businesses pledge through a written statement to provide customers with plastic straws only on request. According to Reef Relief, straws are one of the top 10 sources of plastic marine debris. Reef Relief’s environmental center is located at 631 Greene St. Visit ReefRelief.org or call 305-294-3100.
The Florida Keys tourism council’s “Ten Keymandments for Keys Travelers” guide visitors in ways to have meaningful, memorable vacations while connecting with and helping to protect the island chain’s unique environment. The Keys, surrounded by 2,900 square nautical miles of national marine sanctuary waters, are home to the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef. The destination’s “Ten Keymandments” suggest activities such as supporting or volunteering at local wildlife organizations, traveling off the beaten path by foot or bicycle, planting or adopting a coral and leaving only digital footprints. Visit fla-keys.com/ten-keymandments/ to learn more about the “Keymandments.”
Florida Keys sustainable travel information: fla-keys.com/sustain/
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS