Anyone travelling to Florida should definitely make a detour to the Florida Keys and not just go to Miami Beach and the theme parks in Orlando. More than 200 islands stretch like a string of pearls over more than 290 kilometres in the south of the US state. In this blog article, I’ll share some tips for sustainable experiences in the Florida Keys.
5 sustainable concepts and initiatives in the Florida Keys
When talking about the Florida Keys, many just mention the islands themselves. The real treasure lies partly hidden and only reveals itself to those who take the time to see it. Of course, I’m talking about the fascinating underwater world there. You’ll be amazed by all the things that can be found beneath the surface of the water. Water sports enthusiasts of all kinds are drawn to this tropical paradise. Especially those who enjoy swimming, snorkelling and diving will get their money’s worth here. In addition to conventional holiday activities such as boat trips and Ernest Hemingway tours, the Keys are moving with the times. As a result, more and more sustainable programmes are being created that visitors can get to know and even participate in. Let me introduce you to five of these concepts and initiatives:
#1 Understanding and protecting corals – MOTE Marine Lab
For environmentally conscious travellers to the Florida Keys, visiting the MOTE NGO should definitely be part of their itinerary. The mission of the research institute is to preserve and improve the dwindling coral population in the warm waters of Florida. Coral reefs are not only popular with divers, but are also important for the biodiversity and stability of the local ecosystem. MOTE uses advanced techniques to grow and nurture corals that are more resilient to climate change. Visitors can gain insights into the research through guided tours and even get actively involved. In this way, visitors can experience the scientific activities of the NGO at first hand – and contribute to environmental protection at the same time.
Anyone wishing to get involved with MOTE and learn more about its important work has two options:
- Bud N’Mary’s Marina on Islamorada is home to a land-based coral nursery. A lot of research is being carried out there to better understand corals and their way of life. Those who wish to actively participate can do so here.
- Certified divers can donate their time and clean the coral trees in the field lab. This is essential because otherwise small bacteria will eat the healthy corals and they cannot be released back into large reefs later. Various dive shops from Key Largo organize trips to the Field Lab frequently and of course also upon request.
MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Guided tours are 125 US$ and need to be booked in advance.
#2 Lionfish as a delicacy – Castaway
Lionfish have unfortunately become a major plague in many parts of the world. As the animals have hardly any natural enemies, the populations continue to grow and are becoming a genuine plague in many places. However, few people realise that these animals are quite delicious. John Mirabella recognised this early on and developed the problem into a culinary concept. With his team of spear fishers, he hunts the red and white striped lionfish and turns them into a popular delicacy in his restaurant Castaway in Marathon. The white meat is tender and flaky. Ideal for John’s sushi creations and the delicious fish dishes he creates with it.
Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar, 1406 Ocean View Ave, Marathon
Book a table in advance.
#3 Mission Iconic Reefs – A game changer for the reefs of the Florida Keys
“Mission: Iconic Reefs” is not just a project, it is an ambitious plan to save the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. Initiated by NOAA, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The aim is to rebuild seven important reefs over the next few years. To date, over 3,000 corals have already been planted. The goal is to increase the coral cover to 25%. Sounds like an ambitious plan, but if we’re honest, it’s exactly what the endangered reefs need right now. There are many ways to get involved, be it through volunteering or special educational programmes. “Mission: Iconic Reefs” shows how you can really make a difference with modern science and a touch of adventure. And if you are curious, you can travel with the diving school Rainbow Reef Divers in Key Largo to the places where the corals have already been transplanted and new reefs are being created.
Mission Iconic Reefs – Iconic Reef Guardians Program with information and dates for visiting the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
#4 Ocean Clean-Ups
“Mission: Iconic Reefs” is not just a project, it is an ambitious plan to save the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. Initiated by NOAA, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The aim is to rebuild seven important reefs over the next few years. To date, over 3,000 corals have already been replanted. The goal is to increase the amount of coral cover to 25%. Sounds like an ambitious plan, but if we’re honest, it’s just what the endangered reefs need right now. There are many ways to get involved, be it through volunteering or special educational programmes. “Mission: Iconic Reefs” shows how you can really make a difference with modern science and a touch of adventure. And if you are curious, you can travel with the diving shop Rainbow Reef Divers in Key Largo to the places where the corals have already been transplanted and new reefs are being created.
Clean up dives are offered by many diving shops in the Keys. Enquire locally and get active.
#5 Turtle Hospital
The Turtle Hospital in Marathon is a highlight in the Florida Keys. Injured and sick sea turtles are nursed and cared for here. Since 1986, countless volunteers and specialised vets have been working to ensure that the animals get better again and can be released back into their natural habitat. In addition to injuries caused by boat engines and plastic objects in the sea, many turtles also suffer from tumours, which are surgically removed here – provided their state of health allows it.
They receive loving care at the Turtle Hospital until they are fit to survive again on their own. When the time comes, this is celebrated in style. The release of the turtles into the wild is usually announced on the Turtle Hospital’s Facebook page. If you are lucky, you might be there at the time and be able to witness the healthy animals being released back into the sea.
If you’d like to take a look behind the scenes of the turtle hospital, you can join the daily guided tours and learn a lot about the animals and how we can (better) protect them.
Turtle Hospital, 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon
Guided tours are 35 US$ and take place every 30 minutes between 9am and 4pm.
If you liked this blog post, how about these?
Scuba Diving in Key Largo: Worlds of Corals, Christ and Wrecks
Everything that excites me about freediving: 11 reasons to start freediving
The wild dolphins of Bimini: a dream turned adventure
I was invited to explore The Florida Keys as part of a press trip. In addition to the official programme, I spent a few extra days in the Keys at my own expense to explore the islands further.