America’s first undersea park has long been near the top of my Bucket List. I’ve driven right by it dozens of times, always headed much further down the Keys, like Key West and Bahia Honda. Each time I’d make a mental note that I really must snorkel the 3rd largest reef in the world and the only living coral reef in the continental U.S.
It really is a big deal. Yet the entire reef has been under assault for many decades. Like sub-tropical birds sporting amazing plumage and rare sub-tropical orchids, beautiful corals and colorful fish were relentlessly harvested and sold to a public that couldn’t seem to get enough. Then came Dr. Gilbert Voss of the Marine Institute of the University of Miami and John D. Pennekamp, a champion of Everglades National Park and eventually an assistant editor of the Miami Herald.
The science provided by Dr. Voss won broad support in the scientific and environmental communities — this amazing reef was being harvested to death. John Pennekamp’s experience in helping to establish the Everglades and his journalistic assets propelled Dr. Voss’ findings all the way to the White House. President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared a 75 square mile offshore section of Florida as the Key Largo Coral Reef Preserve in the Spring of 1960.
Later that same year Florida Governor Leroy Collins made a surprise announcement naming this America’s first undersea park, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, in appreciation for his dogged support in the Miami Herald. So that helped reduce the human stress factors on the reef. Now the threats are largely bleaching, disease, and high water temperatures from global warming. Again, at least exacerbated by humans.
If you haven’t been, you must go. It’s like snorkeling in a humongous saltwater aquarium. Beautiful corals and colorful fish of all shapes and sizes dazzle in the sparkling underwater sunlight. Limestone outcrops and shallow valleys shape the sea floor. But there’s also lots of bleaching. Lots. You can see it in the photos here and you’ll see more in the videos below. For a closer look, check out the Photo Gallery.
Perhaps you should experience this spectacular natural wonder while it still exists. So check out the video and links provided, see if you don’t agree. Looking for other great things to do and places to do them in Florida? Where-to-Go provides links by activity and by county, while my Bucket List highlights the places I’ve personally experienced. Enjoy!