FLORIDA KEYS — One of nature’s greatest wonders is a living coral barrier reef, and the Florida Keys island chain is home to the only one in the continental United States. The teeming backbone of marine life runs the length of the Keys about 5 miles offshore, and can engender memories that last a lifetime for visiting divers and snorkelers.
Keys coral formations are famous for their abundance of fish, from impressive schools of blue-striped grunts to toothy green moray eels. The U.S. government established the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to protect the unique ecosystem.
There is no more versatile marine destination in the world, which means preserving the Florida Keys reef is a top priority for a good reason. To become part of the preservation effort, follow the coral reef protection tips here during your next Keys dive or snorkeling vacation.
• Verify weather conditions before going out on the water. Poor visibility, strong winds and wave action can create dangerous conditions at the reef.
• Remember that even the lightest touch with hands, fins or other dive and snorkel equipment can damage sensitive coral polyps — the tiny living animals that create the hard and soft corals of the reef.
• Avoid contact with the ocean bottom; properly weighted divers should practice proper buoyancy control. Sandy areas that appear barren may support new growth if left undisturbed.
• Snorkelers should wear buoyancy control or snorkel vests to allow gear adjustments without standing on the coral.
• Please don't feed the fish; it destroys their natural feeding habits.
• Remember, it's illegal to harvest coral in Florida.
• If you dive or snorkel from your own boat, use the reef mooring buoys instead of anchoring.
• Whether freediving or on scuba, spearfishing enthusiasts (also referred to as “spearos”) can find many spots for spearfishing opportunities — although there are regional zones that are protected from fishing within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
• When booking a dive or snorkel excursion, look for a professional Blue Star operator. The Blue Star program was established by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to recognize operators who are committed to promoting responsible and sustainable diving and snorkeling practices. Blue Star operators take the extra step to educate you to be a better environmental steward and to interact responsibly with coral reefs in the Keys.