#followmeflorida: The Florida Keys
By: Kyle Grammatica
The Florida Keys are an amazing source of natural beauty. The breathtaking scenery and unique flora and fauna make it a place all outdoor enthusiasts can appreciate! The Florida Keys have several parks and preserves that protect the majesty of the area. Let’s take a look at some of them!
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is one of a kind: it was the country’s first undersea park! The park encompasses an impressive 70 nautical square miles covering both mangrove and seagrass habitats. Many visitors like to take the glass bottom boat tour that gives a great view of the reefs and wildlife found in the park. Others enjoy the gentle waves and serene views from atop a canoe or kayak. But if you want to get an up-close view of the coral reef and marine life, you should try out some scuba diving and snorkeling! After you’ve finished exploring the waters, you can enjoy a leisurely walk on the park’s short trails that take you through tropical hammocks. If you brought a pole, you can fish in designated areas. The visitor center also includes several large saltwater aquariums and nature videos for your viewing.
The park features both mangrove and seagrass areas, each vital parts of the Florida Keys ecosystem. They provide valuable habitat to countless species, filter excess nutrients from the water, and stabilize sediments holding creeks and shorelines together in the event of storms. Sea grass and mangrove areas tend to be shallow and often sheltered, making them ideal snorkel destinations for beginning snorkelers.
While snorkeling around the park you may see small fish swimming between mangrove roots and skimming around the sea grass. If you’re lucky, you could also spot a pipefish or a seahorse. When swimming over sandy areas, search for sea stars, sea slugs, and white fringe backed nudibranchs. When you’re around mangrove roots, look out for sponges, mangrove oysters, and tunicates. Crabs, shrimps, and juvenile lobsters may also be spotted around rocky areas. Sometimes larger animals like manatees, sea turtles, and dolphins can be viewed as well. Make sure to keep a distance between you and any wildlife, for your safety and theirs! Also remember that these areas are protected, so do not disturb or take anything from the reef, and if you’re boating in shallow water. be careful to avoid harming the coral and other marine life. By taking caution when visiting the reef, you can help protect it and the wildlife that calls it home!
San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park
Haven’t had your fill of snorkeling and diving at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park? Then take a swim over to San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park! This underwater preserve is the sight of the sinking of the San Pedro. The San Pedro was a 287-ton galleon and one of the merchant vessels of the Spanish Plate Fleet of 1733. It was carrying Mexican silver, Chinese porcelain, and the dye materials cochineal and indigo. When returning to Spain, the San Pedro was hit by a hurricane and sunk off the southern coast of Florida. The San Pedro’s remains now lie in 18 feet of water one mile south of Indian Key. The remains of the San Pedro went undiscovered until the 1960s, at which time silver coins, cannons, and other hardware were found among the wreckage and collected. Currently, the wreckage site contains the anchor of one of San Pedro’s sister ships, replica cannons, red ladrillo bricks from the ship’s galley, and a commemorative bronze plaque placed among the ballast stones. The San Pedro site is home to over 65 species of fish and ten species of coral. You may also find eels and lobsters hiding among the rocks. San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park is a great place to appreciate history and wildlife!
If you’re interested in exploring these and other parks and preserves in the Florida Keys, make plans to visit them once they reopen!