FLORIDA KEYS — Earth Day is to be commemorated around the globe April 22, but in the Florida Keys & Key West, surrounded by a national marine sanctuary and paralleled by the continental United States' only living coral barrier reef, celebrations take place before, on and after the official date.
The Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, located at 5210 College Road, will be open to the public for three extra hours on Earth Day, April 22. Though the facility usually closes at 4 p.m., it is to stay open until 7 p.m. and offer free admission for visitors and families to picnic or enjoy the lush tropical surroundings.
Volunteers can join Marathon's Dolphin Research Center to collect discarded trash, monofilament fishing line and other debris at Tom's Harbor Bridge, MM 62, from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. Thursday, April 23. Participants should wear hats, shoes and clothes that can get wet or dirty and bring a reusable cup, bug repellent, sunscreen and a cutting tool. Dolphin Research Center will supply water, trash bags and gloves. Dolphin Research Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals and humans and the environment through research and education. Located at MM 59, the center is home to a family of dolphins and California sea lions and is open daily to the public. The cleanup will begin on the south side of the bridge. For more information, call Courtney Coburn at 305-289-1121, ext. 231.
Bahia Honda State Park, located in the Lower Keys at MM 36.8, is to host its 20th annual Earth Day Celebration from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 25. Attendees can expect live music, food and fun for the whole family. Local environmental groups are to have exhibits and interactive activities, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute that plans to have two marine touch tanks at the event. Children can get their faces painted, participate in a sand sculpture contest and play games. In addition, guests can create a fish print wall hanging or print a T-shirt or tote bag that they bring to the event. One of the Florida Keys' most popular camping and recreation areas, Bahia Honda offers near-shore waters for swimming and snorkeling as well as camping, picnicking, watersports, a marina and rental cabins. Admission to the event is free with regular park admission. A shuttle is scheduled to run between the Sandspur Beach day use parking lot and the Sand and Sea Nature Center. For more information, call the Sand and Sea Nature Center at 305-872-9807.
Visitors who want to do something positive for the environment beyond Earth Day, and add an enriching element to their next Florida Keys vacation, can connect and get involved with voluntourism opportunities through keysvoluntourism.com or www.fla-keys.com/volunteer.. The sites provide direct links to Florida Keys charities, nonprofit organizations and foundations — all dedicated to protecting and improving the quality of human and animal life in the island chain — that are seeking volunteers. Keys travelers can give back to the destination and its unique ecosystems with such activities as helping build an underwater coral nursery or planting corals on actual reefs, collecting reef fish population data, assisting with yard work or minor repairs at an outdoor tropical garden facility, feeding injured wild birds or mending their cages, cleaning or maintaining nature paths or trails, or even helping with fundraising events.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Florida Keys green travel information: fla-keys.com/greentravel
Gypsi, a bottlenose dolphin at Marathon's Dolphin Research Center, gives an encouraging smile for volunteers to sign up and help in the educational organization's annual cleanup.
For 20 years, Bahia Honda State Park, located in the Lower Keys at MM 36.8, has hosted an Earth Day Celebration perfect for the entire family.
Coral restoration projects are ongoing and open for recreational divers to participate in year-round.