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Reef Diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

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November 17, 1997 -- The waters surrounding the Florida Keys were designated a National Marine Sanctuary in November of 1990.

The Florida Keys’ marine environment has always been an integral part of the state’s economy, attracting both the tourist and commercial fishing industries.

Yet not only big industry but smaller businesses thrive on the bounty of these waters. Minority users of the sanctuary, such as tropical fish collectors and treasure hunters, have a vested interest in the health of this marine sanctuary as well as the measures taken by its management.

The variety of uses of these waters, with their varying impacts, pose a challenge to sanctuary management, which must balance the multi-use mandate of the sanctuary program while maintaining an environmental focus. As the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary management seeks to provide solutions it has become both pioneer and guinea pig for the sanctuary program. In its seven-year history, Florida Keys NMS has established 23 "no-take" zones—a first in National Marine Sanctuary history.

These zones prohibit the taking of any marine material-- living or non-living-- from within its boundaries. However, non-consumptive uses of the sanctuary such as diving, swimming, and snorkeling are permitted within these areas.

It is no wonder that the future of this marine environment is at the forefront of many people’s minds. The coral reefs of the Florida Keys are an indisputably rich resource that have often been called the "crown jewels" of our coastline.

The reef habitat and its surrounding waters provide homes for a multitude of underwater species ranging from brain and star coral to parrot fish, spiny lobsters, and barracudas.

A variety of interdependent habitats provide the foundation for the Florida Keys complex ecosystem: coral reefs, seagrass meadows, fringing mangroves, hardbottom regions, and bank and patch reefs. With such a wealth of resources within its boundaries, it is unsurprising that the Florida Keys is one of North America’s most diverse ecosystems.

The Radio Expeditions team made two trips to the Florida Keys. The first expedition accompanied underwater photographer, David Doubilet, in an auditory tour of the coral reef at Sand Key. The crew traveled back to the sanctuary equipped with hydrophones to listen to this same spot on Sand Key reef. While there, they talked to users of these waters in an attempt to understand how the sanctuary has affected them.

Located 6 miles off-shore and extending 220 miles long, the Florida Keys' coral reef system is the third largest barrier reef in the world. It helps protect the Keys from tropical storms by softening the impact of waves before they reach the shore.

Surgeonfish and Elkhorn Coral Surgeonfish and Elkhorn Coral
Photo: Mike White

Threespot Damselfish Threespot Damselfish
Photo: Florida Keys NMS

Shipwreck Doorway Shipwreck Doorway
Photo: Florida Keys NMS

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