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Coral Restoration, Turtle Release and Other Highlights to Commemorate Florida Keys' Earth Day

Every day is a reason to celebrate the beauty of the planet in the Florida Keys, full of natural wonders set against scenic backdrops of earth, sea and sky. The waters surrounding the island chain, including the continental United States' only living coral barrier reef, are protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
FLORIDA KEYS - Every day is a reason to celebrate the beauty of the planet in the Florida Keys, full of natural wonders set against scenic backdrops of earth, sea and sky. The waters surrounding the island chain, including the continental United States' only living coral barrier reef, are protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The Keys encompass 10 state parks, two national parks - Dry Tortugas National Park and the Flamingo district of Everglades National Park - and four federally protected havens: National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake national wildlife refuges.

Both before and on Saturday, April 22, Keys visitors and residents can commemorate Earth Day's significance with a wide range of activities. Highlights include:

In the Lower Keys, Captain Hook's at 29675 Overseas Highway on Big Pine Key is teaming with Reef Renewal USA for a three-day immersive "Make a Difference" citizen science initiative leading up to Earth Day that enables divers to gain knowledge while actively aiding reef restoration. The program is to begin with a Coral Fragging Party set for April 20-22 to study and participate in fragmenting corals into small pieces for widespread propagation. Divers can then suit up April 22 for an Earth Day Coral Nursery Dive to work on "coral tree" development and planting. Participants interested in either the coral fragmentation or dive experiences, or both, are asked to call Captain Hook's at 305-872-9836 to schedule exact times for the coral activity and details about the coral nursery dive. Both events are free of charge. captainhooks.com/coral-program

To kick off Earth Day weekend, Mote Marine Laboratory is to present the "Youth Making Ripples" International Film Festival Screening Friday evening, April 21, at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center at 35 E. Quay Road in Key West. The film competition is open to kindergarten through college students from around the world who display their creative talents to serve as a voice for the planet's oceans. The screening is to feature entries from the current year's competition and top films from previous years - all five minutes long or less. Topics range from local marine concerns to a specific call to action for marine conservation. Doors open at 5 p.m., followed at 5:30 p.m. by a ribbon-cutting celebration for the reopening of Mote's coral research and restoration exhibit at the center. The film screening is set for 6 p.m. in the facility's theater. Admission is free. facebook.com/youthmakingripples

Islamorada's History of Diving Museum, NASA and Coastlove are to host an action-packed Earth Day event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 22 at Marathon International Airport, 9850 Overseas Highway bayside. NASA earth scientists are to be on hand to talk about their climate work in South Florida aboard the agency's Blueflux carbon-monitoring aircraft. NASA scientists also will offer tours inside the plane to view monitoring instruments used for climate and environmental research. The History of Diving Museum is to have displays of vintage dive gear and information about the history of diving in the Florida Keys. To emphasize the connection between mangrove trees, which absorb atmospheric carbon, and the health of the Keys' reefs and marine ecosystems, environmental organization Coastlove and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission have scheduled a coastal cleanup and mangrove planting experience near the event site. Other exhibitors are to include the National Park Service and Florida International University. The event is free, but reservations are requested, especially by those participating in the mangrove planting. https://bit.ly/EarthDayatMarathonAirport

Earth Day enthusiasts can celebrate Saturday, April 22, with the Florida Keys–based Turtle Hospital by witnessing a planned sea turtle release at the Islander Resort, mile marker 82 oceanside in Islamorada. The Turtle Hospital ambulance is to arrive at 9:30 a.m. and the turtle will be released at 10 a.m. A licensed veterinary hospital dedicated to the treatment of sea turtles, the Turtle Hospital was opened in 1986 with the goal of healing injured sea turtles and returning them to the wild. Visitors can take guided educational tours of the facility and outdoor rehabilitation area, which is located at 2396 Overseas Highway in Marathon. Follow the hospital's Facebook page for additional details about the Earth Day release.

The Key Largo Community Preservation Foundation is to host its inaugural Earth Day Celebration from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Rowell's Waterfront Park, mile marker 104.5 bayside in Key Largo. Attendees can explore exhibits from Upper Keys environmental and educational nonprofit organizations and schools. Attractions are to include interactive activities and information from organizations including Mote Marine Laboratory, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, the I.CARE coral reef restoration group, MarineLab Environmental Education Center and Island Dolphin Care, which will have a touch tank filled with sea stars, sea urchins and hermit crabs. Food vendors are to be on hand as well. The event is free to attend. facebook.com/KeyLargoCPF

Creative recycling, offbeat artistry and energetic "people power" are to entertain spectators during the Papio Kinetic Sculpture and Art Bike Parade in Key West. Designed to inspire fans of eco-friendly repurposing and recycled art, the human-powered parade of colorful mobile sculptures is to roll through Key West's historic downtown beginning at noon on Earth Day. It commemorates the late Key Largo folk artist Stanley Papio, a renegade metal sculptor whose welded creations incorporated eclectic elements such as recycled car parts, appliances, pipes and wire. The family-friendly parade is scheduled to depart from the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House, 281 Front St., with entries crafted by local school groups, environmental supporters and those who share Papio's passion for turning found objects into eclectic art. papiokineticparade.com

The all-volunteer Florida Keys Community Concert Band is to stage an Earth Day concert that focuses on the beauty of planet Earth, expressed through music and the written word. Several Florida Keys authors are to read excerpts from their books, while musical selections include "Give Peace a Chance" by John Lennon and "What a Wonderful World," written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, and made famous by trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Participants are invited to join in with the Upper Keys Drum Circle, either playing their own drum or one of the many instruments available for attendees. The free concert is set for 4-5 p.m. April 22 at Founders Park at mile maker 87 bayside in Islamorada. keyscommunityconcertband.com

The Key West Southernmost Runners are to team up with the Conch Republic Marine Army for the 25th annual Earth Day 5k Run/Walk at Key West's Truman Waterfront Park at the end of Southard Street. The start and finish line is near the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum. Proceeds from the race are to benefit the Conch Republic Marine Army, a local nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to cleaning and restoring the shallow mangrove habitats of the Florida Keys. Registration is $25 per person (free for children under 5 with a parent). Participants can register online or in person at the race location from 4 to 6 p.m. April 21 and at 7 a.m. April 22 before the 8 a.m. race start. runsignup.com/Race/FL/KeyWest/ED5K

Florida Keys sustainability information: fla-keys.com/sustain
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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